Hoping to capitalise on favourable opinion polls German opposition leader Edmund Stoiber has challenged Chancellor Gerhard Schröder to take part in the country’s first televised leadership debate.
To millions of television viewers on Sunday, the reason for this isn’t immediately clear. Trying to explain his political programme on the weekly TV talk show Christiansen, Stoiber looked, eh, nervous.
He obviously had problems getting the words out and lacked focus, losing himself in long-winded observations of the state of the economy.
Criticising the government’s tax policy he loses the plot: "And the business giants are getting the tax breaks, whether it’s British Telecom, eh, or Viag, eh, whether it’s, eh the big German, eh, society, eh, Mr Sommer, eh, he is getting the tax breaks".
The crescendo comes when he addresses the show’s host, Sabine Christansen with Angela Merkel, head of Germany’s conservative opposition party, the CDU.
Stoiber, who this month elbowed Angela Merkel out of the Chancellorship race, is out on a limb as he awkwardly tries to plaster over the slip of the tongue.
Trying his hand at being a man of the people backfires too. When he quotes a figure in Deutschmarks rather than in euros he turns to the studio audience, explaining that the old currency still forms the basis of many a discussion " and then you quickly have to multiply, eh, the figure by two, eh, by two".
The opposition candidate seems to sense that his performance isn’t going down well. And that is probably why he remarks on Chancellor Schröder’s on-screen abilities.
"More important than personalities however ", Stoiber said, "is the political team and the idea behind it".
So what is the idea? Stoiber’s idea is that "the government loses an election when the people sense that the government hasn’t kept its promises".
That is, of course, less an idea than it is a criticism of the government’s record and the point at which Stoiber plays his trump card: the achievements of a region which has become the richest in Europe.
Schröder has failed to keep a pre-election promise to bring unemployment below 3.5 million and, as the figure creeps above 4 million, it could cost him his job. Nor has he managed to improve the country's growth rate, the lowest in Europe for nearly a decade.
The prize question is: do German voters think Stoiber can do any better? Not if the ratings of the programme are anything to go by. To start with, 7.69 million Germans switched on to watch the fair-haired Bavarian. By the end of the programme only 4.99 million were still tuned in.