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Pulling no punches

Carla Bleiker / cmkSeptember 20, 2013

In the last days before the German election, the parties have been quick to jump on any missteps by their political opponents, even if they're decades old. Each party wants to look as good as possible in the final polls.

The Greens' top candidates Jürgen Trittin and Katrin Göring-Eckardt Foto: Marc Tirl/dpa
The Greens' top candidates Jürgen Trittin and Katrin Göring-EckardtImage: picture-alliance/dpa

As German election campaigns wind up ahead of Sunday's (22.09.2013) vote, the Green party is being confronted with a dark chapter from its early days: uncomfortable entanglements with pedophilia.

In May, it was revealed that several regional Green associations had advocated for the legalization of sex between adults and children, under certain conditions, in the 1980s. As a result, the Greens commissioned political scientist Franz Walter to look into the issue. He was charged with finding out to what extent the activists that had been behind the movement were involved with the party.

Even if the platform lies more than two decades in the past, "there is always a part of society that will never forget," Marcel Solar, a researcher at the Institute of Political Science and Sociology at the University of Bonn, told DW.

Serious accusations of pedophilia

Jürgen Trittin in 1988
The revelations concerning Trittin date back to the early 1980sImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Walter's explosive findings were recently published and have ensnared Jürgen Trittin, one of the Greens two top candidates. A wing of the Greens party pushed for changes German criminal code that would only punish sex with children if the occurred with the "use or threat of violence," or through the "abuse of a relationship of trust."

German Minister of Family Affairs Kristina Schröder, of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), has criticized Trittin, saying that he needed a professor "to rouse and expose his personal memories of pedophilia among the Greens."

And the executive secretary of the CDU's sister party in Bavaria, the CSU's Alexander Dobrindt, called for Trittin's withdrawal as the Green's top candidate. "Trittin was part of the pedophilia cartel in the Green Party and is unacceptable as the party's front man," he said.

Convincing the undecided

The debate has raged for months, but the tone has sharpened considerably in the days before the election. "Some of the statements that we're now hearing from the governing parties seem to imply that Mr. Trittin personally abused children, which of course isn't the case," Lothar Probst, a professor at the University of Bremen's Political Science Institute, told DW.

Paul Kirchhof, Foto: Rolf Vennenbernd/dpa (zu dpa "dpa - Bildfunk+++
According to experts, Kirchhof was one of the reasons for the failure of a CDU-FDP coalition in 2005Image: picture alliance/dpa

The aim is to influence undecided voters, Probst said. "In that respect, it makes sense to turn up the heat in the last weeks of the campaign, to look for the other parties' weak spots and to show yourself to the best advantage," he said.

For an example of a successful negative campaign, one only needs to go as far back as the 2005 general election, Solar said. At the time, the Social Democratic Party (SPD) was trailing far behind the CDU, and then Chancellor Gerhard Schröder (SPD) decided to take a shot at the CDU's finance expert, Paul Kirchhof.

Kirchhof had been selected by the CDU to showcase the party's expertise in tax policy. "In the TV debate, Gerhard Schröder was able to successfully portray him as the out-of-touch professor in his ivory tower," Solar.

Schröder called Kirchhof's tax proposals antisocial and unjust. "And that gave an absolute boost to the entire election campaign," said Solar. "It ended up being a very close result between the two major parties." Ultimately, the negative campaign gave the SPD the necessary percentage points to make it into the grand coalition as a governing partner.

Steinbrück's environment expert in the cross hairs

Matthias Machnig (SPD) Foto: Martin Schutt/dpa +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++
Machnig: a potential problem in Steinbrück's team of expertsImage: picture-alliance/dpa

This year's election campaign has also seen another politician facing criticism from the opposition, the SPD's Thuringian Economy Minister Matthias Machnig. According to the newsmagazine "Der Spiegel," from 2009 to 2012 Machnig received transitional payments and a pension from his former role as state secretary in the German Environment Ministry.

The revelation is particularly bad for the SPD, as Machnig is part of the team of experts of the SPD's chancellor candidate Peer Steinbrück, advising on the environment. According to "Der Spiegel," the additional payments ran upwards of 100,000 euros ($135,300).

Machnig is now facing harsh criticism, words that the opposition parties naturally want to see appear in the press. "There have been significantly more press releases than usual," said Volkhard Paczulla, state politics editor for the "Ostthüringer Zeitung."

The Machnig affair has grabbed the voters' interest, he said. "In our online comments section, I've remarked that the topic has drawn significant interest," he told DW. "Many of our readers feel justified with their ''disenchantment with politicians.'"