Merkel rejects Schulz’s plea for second TV election debate

Rival’s request viewed as late bid to rally support with German chancellor widely expected to secure fourth term.

Angela Merkel has flatly rejected an appeal by her Social Democrat rival, Martin Schulz, for a second prime-time TV debate just days before Germans go to the polls.

With Merkel widely expected to secure a fourth term in office on 24 September, Schulz’s plea to the German chancellor is being viewed as little more than a last-minute bid to claw back support.

In his written request to Merkel, Schulz said he had been approached by many voters on the campaign trail telling him they had many unanswered questions they would still like to put to the main candidates. Schulz said some topics close to people’s hearts were not addressed during their one direct confrontation before a TV audience of more than 16 million on 3 September, including pensions and education.

Schulz, who repeated his appeal in front of a TV audience on Tuesday evening, as well as on Twitter, wrote: “The citizens of this country deserve a comprehensive debate on the central questions related to the future of this country. For this reason I call for a second TV duel before the election. I am prepared to go ahead with it at any time.”

But Merkel, who from the outset has rejected the idea of anything other than a single encounter, and also succeeded in resisting TV producers’ ideas for enlivening what turned out to be a rather wooden format, said she had no plans to change her mind.

“Angela Merkel enjoyed taking part in one TV duel,” her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party said on Wednesday, adding: “This format proved successful and therefore she’ll leave it at that.”

The TV debate is widely considered the highlight so far of a rather uneventful campaign.

Over 97 minutes the two politicians battled it out on topics such as the refugee crisis, motorway tolls and relations with Turkey. For Schulz, the leader of the Social Democrats (SPD) who has been trailing in the polls for months, the duel was seen as his only chance to significantly change his party’s fortunes. Thirty percent of Germans said the debate would influence their voting behaviour.

Polls afterwards showed viewers considered Merkel the winner.

The latests polls show the SPD has since failed to make any gains on the CDU, but instead has lost support, possibly due to Schulz’s performance, namely his inability to distinguish himself sufficiently from Merkel.

Polls show the SPD trailing the CDU by between 13 and 16 percentage points. A Forsa Institute poll released on Wednesday showed the CDU on 37%, the SPD on 23%, Die Linke, the far-left party, on 10%, the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) on 9%, and both the Greens and the pro-business Free Democratic party (FDP) on 8%.

A victorious CDU is expected either to renew a grand coalition with the SPD, or to enter a “Jamaica” coalition with the Greens and FDP.

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