Merkel chief rival Martin Schulz fights to save campaign

Barely three months ago, Schulz, the new head of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), seemed to be the man most likely to topple Merkel, who is running for a fourth term.

Merkel chief rival Martin Schulz fights to save campaign

World Bulletin / News Desk

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's chief challenger in September elections, Martin Schulz, will battle at a party congress on Sunday to regain his footing in the campaign and reverse his plunging popularity.

The 61-year-old's decision to take the helm of the SPD in late January had jolted the party to life, with some opinion surveys recording a then 10-percentage point jump and some polls in March even putting it ahead of Merkel's conservative bloc.

Schulz's popularity soared close to 50 percent, overtaking the chancellor's 38 percent.

But three months on, the trend has reversed.

The SPD has suffered heavy losses in three straight state elections while Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party has scored clear wins.

Nationwide, the SPD is now trailing around 10 percentage points behind Merkel's CDU and Bavarian allies CSU.

A poll published this month by national broadcaster ARD gives Schulz just a 36 percent approval rating, compared with 64 percent for Merkel.

The SPD's freefall has sparked questions about whether Merkel has already won the election even though campaigning has not yet begun in earnest.

Polls even suggest Merkel could secure a win big enough to form a coalition with the far smaller liberal party FDP, and knock its current partner SPD out of the government.

For analysts, the suddenly waning support for Schulz's SPD boils down to the government's success in curbing a refugee influx that saw 890,000 migrants arrive in 2015, deeply unsettling many German voters.

Schulz initially "was then presented as an alternative to Madame Merkel," said Gero Neugebauer, a political science analyst at Berlin's Free University.

"He was relatively new and had criticisms against the chancellor's immigration policy which had divided public opinion," added Neugebauer.

But migrant arrivals have tapered off, and Merkel's CDU and CSU "have won increasing trust that they have the best strategy to deal with the refugee situation," Renate Koecher from opinion research group Allensbach Institute wrote in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

Güncelleme Tarihi: 22 Haziran 2017, 12:55