Merkel embarks on Germany’s ‘strangest’ campaign

Berlin (AFP) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel, fresh from a three-week Alpine holiday, embarked Saturday on what may be the most bizarre election campaign in the country’s post-war history.

After months of studiously ignoring the race for the September 24 election, Merkel kicked off a series of rallies across the country with a campaign speech in the western city of Dortmund delivering an upbeat message on jobs.

“We are set to reach full employment by 2025, that is to say an unemployment rate under three percent, and I believe we can achieve it,” said Merkel of a key objective of her centre-right Christian Democrat Union (CDU).

As of July the German jobless rate stood at 5.7 percent, relatively low among European nations. “We have today 44 million employed in Germany. Those are really very good figures,” the 63-year-old told her supporters.

But just six weeks before the European Union’s top economic power and most populous nation goes to the polls, Germans have been barely taking notice of the election.

After 12 years in power, Merkel, frequently called the world’s most powerful woman and Europe’s de facto leader, looks set to win a fourth term.

Gone are the warnings of her political demise heard at the height of the 2015 refugee influx in Europe, when nearly 900,000 asylum seekers entered the country.

Her conservative Christian Democrats lead their closest rivals, the Social Democrats (SPD), by a 12-to-17-point margin, meaning it would take a political earthquake to shift the field at this point.

“It is probably the strangest election race in the history of the Federal Republic,” Heribert Prantl of the national broadsheet Sueddeutsche Zeitung wrote this week.

“There is no wind, never mind a wind of change.”

– ‘Shadowboxer’ –

Merkel’s main challenger, SPD leader and former European Parliament spokesman Martin Schulz, has led what many commentators call a plodding campaign.

But they acknowledge that there is little mood around for renewal, as Germans look out on a turbulent world unsettled by US President Donald Trump and Brexit.

After high-drama election campaigns in the United States, Britain and France, Germans appear relieved that their race is so low-stakes.

“The German elections are very difficult to understand from a foreign point of view because there’s hardly any polarisation,” political scientist Timo Lochocki of the German Marshall Fund of the US told AFP.

Meanwhile the frustrated Social Democrats are faced with an enemy who refuses to engage, with German…

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