Challenge from lefts new saviour Martin Schulz fades among voters content with economic success
Not long ago, he was seen as a bearer of hope, not just for his own party, Germanys Social Democrats, but for the whole of the embattled European left. He was nicknamed Sankt Martin, the man who had the potential to topple Angela Merkel from her throne after almost 12 years and bring a wave of fresh ideas that would reinvigorate a political landscape turned staid by her long-term presence.
Martin Schulz, 61, was even being looked to closely by Jeremy Corbyns advisers at a time when the Labour leader was struggling to mobilise support. They marvelled at how he had burst on to Berlins political stage and was inspiring a new generation of young voters, while encouraging those who had abandoned the party to return in their thousands.
Now, with six weeks to go until Germans go to the polls, Schulz is trailing Merkel miserably and already appears to be settling for a seat on the Bundestag opposition benches. The SPD candidate is toiling hard, but no one is taking any notice, wrote leading commentator Heribert Prantl in an editorial for the Sddeutsche Zeitung.
The polls show Schulzs SPD trailing Merkels CDU/CSU alliance by about 14%, having been almost neck-and-neck just a few months ago. Polling analysts are not so much blaming Schulzs campaign, which has seen him off on an energetic tour across Germany at the same time as Merkel has been happily relaxing in the South Tyrol, but on the strength of his opponents brand, the sense of reliability she exudes, and the continuity she will offer a Germany that is on an economic high.
The trust she inspires was reinforced last week by pictures of Merkel and her husband, Joachim Sauer, wearing the same outfits they have worn for many years in a row, while they always visit the same hotel and stay in the same room.
Prantl says the decision to vote for Merkel is the equivalent of a gambler who is happy to break even. People are still satisfied with being in the black with Merkel, says Prantl, because in a world that is topsy-turvy and being ruled by so many crazy people, theyd quite like to keep her, simply because shes not mad, but capable and experienced.
When Schulz arrived in Berlin, having spent the previous two decades on the European political scene, latterly as president of the European parliament, he attracted thousands of new and former recruits to the SPD, after two decades in which it had haemorrhaged support. The partys standing in the polls rose by 10 percentage points. He went on to receive a record 100% of the votes to become the party leader. The SPDs euphoria was expressed in T-shirts emblazoned with his bespectacled, bearded face, along with the slogan Time for Martin and red balloons printed with the words A breath of fresh air. He was greeted with screams and cheers when he entered rooms full of SPD members.
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