At a party conference in Havel, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder kicks off the campaign in the state of Brandenburg, where unpopular reforms have pushed the former communists in the PDS party to the top of polls.
Back from vacation, Gerhard Schröder has his work cut out
This weekend marked the start of serious campaigning in state elections in eastern Germany's Brandenburg, with major conferences of the country's ruling Social and opposition Christian democrats. The gatherings were accompanied by the usual political salvos and finger pointing, much of it over Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's controversial labor market reforms.
Now the opposition Christian Democratic Union as well as the leftist, Party of Social Democracy, the successor party to East Germany's Communists, have jumped on the union's bandwagon in criticizing the reforms.
Schröder: PDS and CDU resorting to populism
With PDS and CDU wagons circling in from the left and the right, Schröder said, they were attempting to create a new "people's front." Speaking at a state party conference in the city of Havel, Brandenburg, Schröder accused the PDS of "fomenting resentment against the reforms." As for the CDU, he said, the party is trying to tip toe away from decisions that it supported and voted for in order to stay in power. He also accused the parties of engaging in populist activity.
At the party conference, Schröder also reiterated his desire to stay in office until the end of the current legislature period, which comes to an end in 2006. In an interview with public broadcaster ZDF, Schröder said he intends to run for a third term in the chancellery. Though his candidacy won't be support by all members of his party, he said, "there will be broad support in the SPD."
In preparation for the Sept. 19 elections in Brandenburg, the party on Saturday elected state Premier Matthias Platzeck as its main candidate.
Müntefering calls for unity with CDU
SPD chief Franz Müntefering called on the CDU to express its support for the coming labor reforms, which will merge social welfare and unemployment benefits for the longterm unemployed starting in January. The reforms will leave many longterm unemployed with fewer benefits, but the government has argued the changes are necessary to give the hobbling economy a needed boost. Müntefering said it was the job of CDU chairwoman Angela Merkel to see to it that Union politicians in the federal and state government do not boycott the reform measures. In an interview with the Bild am Sonntag newspaper, Müntefering said the leading opposition party must also help with the implementation of the difficult reforms.
Former communists lead in polls
Meanwhile, Jörg Schönbohm, Brandenburg's Interior Minister and the CDU's leading candidate, said his party wanted to continue its government coalition with the Social Democrats and that there was "no alternative." Of the parties represented in the state parliament, he said, the SPD was the "natural coalitions party."
But both parties face enormous challenges in the state. The latest survey by pollster Infratest dimap shows the PDS with a growing lead, with the SPD and CDU trailing in second and third place.
CDU: A bad public awareness strategy
Over the weekend Schönbohm and Merkel rebuked the Social Democrats for what they described as technical errors and a lacking public awareness strategy for the reforms. They added that it had been a "dramatic error" to send out paperwork forms to the unemployed before properly informing them about the changes in benefits they were facing.
Schönbohm also took shots at the PDS, saying the party had "stoked up fears and defamed" the reforms.