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CDU/CSU leads before elections, politicians debate FDP future

Ahead of Germany's federal election on Sunday, opinion polls show Chancellor Merkel's CDU party in the lead; ten points ahead of rivals SPD. Party representatives also held their last debate ahead of Sunday's vote.

Public appearances by Germany's top politicians dominated the airwaves on Thursday. Following weekend elections in Bavaria seen as a bellweather for Sunday and the latest opinion polls, Chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU/CSU looks set to garner a win. However, with the FDP slipping and the SPD saying it would prefer a coalition with the Greens, it remains unclear which parties will come out on top.

According to the latest opinion polls, Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) are still in the lead with 38 percent, followed by the Social Democrats who are gaining speed at 28 percent. The Greens are in third with 8 percent.

The CDU's current coalition partner, the Free Democrats (FDP), polled at 6 percent, rising just above the 5-percent threshold needed to remain in parliament.

'No cause for panic'

The fate of the FDP played a prominent role in a televised debate on Thursday evening between top politicians from the SPD, the Greens, the FDP, the Left and the CDU/CSU.

Over the weekend, the FDP exited at 3.3 percent in the Bavarian elections, failing to hold onto seats in the regional parliament where the CSU garnered 47.7 percent of the vote. On Monday, the FDP announced a new campaign for the remaining days ahead of the election in a last ditch effort to remain in the Bundestag.

"There is no cause for panic," FDP party leader Rainer Brüderle said, referring to the uncertainty of the FDP's future.

Brüderle meanwhile defended the last ditch effort to grab more votes as a way to ensure another CDU/CSU - FDP coalition.

At the beginning of the week, the FDP announced a final campaign which would call on non-FDP voters to contribute their so-called second "list votes" to keep it above the 5-percent threshold.

Ballots in Germany include two separate votes for the 598-seat parliament. The first vote goes to a district candidate and fills the first 299 seats in parliament. The second vote is cast for a particular party and fills the remaining 299 seats with candidates selected by that party.

"Continuing the coalition means that Merkel will stay chancellor," Brüderle said.

However, Merkel's labor minister, Ursula von der Leyen, criticized the focus on only capturing one vote instead of two. Every party should campaign for both votes, she said.

Meanwhile, the SPD party chairperson, Sigmar Gabriel, refused to comment on rumors that his party would seek another grand coalition with the CDU/CSU. The SPD party would seek a coalition with the Greens - not the Left - because of the common base, Gabriel said.

'I want to be chancellor'

Thousands of SPD supporters gathered in Berlin to see the party's top candidate and contender for the chancellorship, Peer Steinbrück.

Steinbrück called on Germans to vote on Sunday, during a Thursday appearance on Berlin's Alexanderplatz while joined on stage by members of his team, including party chairperson Gabriel and parliamentary floor leader Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

"Exercise your right to vote. Go vote," Steinbrück said.

"In three days you have it in your hands to bring about a change of government," he added.

The SPD candidate sharply criticized Chancellor Merkel for what he characterized as divided and disoriented behavior from day one. The chancellor had made no use of her policy-making power, he said.

"I want to be chancellor," Steinbrück told the crowd.

As a first step, he said he would introduce a nationwide minimum wage and enforce the principle of equal pay for equal work. Moreover, he said he would abolish the controversial "Betreuungsgeld" - or subsidies allotted to parents who opted out of sending their children to already overcrowded daycare centers - and invest in education and infrastructure.

Minimum wages have been a key election issue, with the opposition SPD calling for a national standard setting the minimum wage at 8.50 euros ($11.50) and the Left party calling for 10 euros per hour.

However, Merkel's conservative-led coalition has always rejected a mandatory national minimum wage, arguing that it was best to allow employers and employees to negotiate pay depending on the sector and region.

"In this society, everyone should be able to write their own life plan, regardless of gender, skin color, religion or sexual orientation," Steinbrück said, adding that the SPD policy is "not about asking where you come from, but where you want to go."

Germany is set to go to the polls on Sunday.

kms/jm (AFP, dpa)

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