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Merkel implores Germans to back conservative Laschet to succeed her in election

Published: Updated:

Chancellor Angela Merkel made an impassioned plea to German voters on Tuesday to back a government led by conservative Armin Laschet in this month’s national election, saying their other option was a left-wing ruling coalition.

After losing their lead in opinion polls to the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) last month, the CDU/CSU conservative bloc is relying increasingly on warnings of a lurch to the left under an SPD-led coalition to try to revive its struggling campaign.

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Merkel also clashed openly with her deputy, who is a rival party’s candidate to succeed her and is currently leading polls, over a comment in which he described people who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 as “guinea pigs.”

It was an unusually partisan speech by Merkel, who has largely stayed out of the campaign on the grounds that outgoing leaders should hold back, and appeared to reflect mounting concern over her center-right Union bloc’s prospects under would-be successor Armin Laschet.

At stake is the future course of Germany, Europe’s largest economy and most populous country, after 16 years of steady, center-right leadership under Merkel. She plans to step down after the Sept. 26 election.

“Citizens have the choice in a few days: either a government that accepts the support of the (far-left) Linke party with the SPD and the Greens, or at least does not exclude it,” she told lawmakers in the Bundestag lower house of parliament.

“...or a federal government led by the CDU and CSU with Armin Laschet as chancellor -- a federal government that leads our country into the future with moderation,” she added, in what was likely her last speech to the chamber.

“His government will stand for stability, reliably and moderation, and that is exactly what Germany needs.”

Merkel set out what she sees as the achievements of her final term, including progress on legislation to fight climate change and in efforts to promote equal living standards across the country.

She also argued that Germany has made “significant progress” on digitization and expanded infrastructure, although she conceded that “there are still small difficulties in many places.” Critics argue that Germany has much more work to do.

Merkel said that years of efforts to support research have borne fruit, for example in the development in Germany of one of the major vaccines against COVID-19. And she took a direct swipe at Scholz over comments aimed at restoring momentum to the country’s vaccination campaign.

Scholz recently said that 50 million people have been fully vaccinated and “we were all the guinea pigs for those who so far have held off.” He said his message as someone who has been vaccinated is that it worked and others should follow.

“Of course, none of us was and is any way a guinea pig when it comes to vaccination,” Merkel said. “No one — neither Olaf Scholz nor me, and no one else.”

“We all agree that many more people must still be convinced to get vaccinated, but if we want to convince people that has to be done with arguments and not with, to put it mildly, slanted pictures of ‘guinea pigs,’” Merkel said.

Scholz shot back that people can be convinced with humor.

“If some people don’t want to laugh and get worked up about it, perhaps it has something to do with the fact that they don’t have much to laugh about with a view to their poll ratings,” he said.

Scholz attacked the Union’s plans for Germany, contending that another government led by the bloc “would cost Germany prosperity and jobs.”

Read more: You can be German even if your name is not ‘Klaus’ or ‘Erika’: Angela Merkel