German Social Democrats surge as candidates ready for first TV battle

Four weeks before the Bundestag elections, the three candidates hoping to be the next German chancellor clash in a first live television debate on Sunday, with the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) still surging in the polls, DPA reports.

The latest survey, for the newspaper Bild am Sonntag, showed the SPD on 24 per cent, three points ahead of the centre-right bloc. The INSA poll will increase the pressure on Armin Laschet, the leader of the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU), who has seen his popularity slide considerably in the weeks leading up to the 26 September elections. The CDU and their Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), are on 21 per cent, according to Sunday's poll. The Greens are on 17 per cent and are still well-placed to be part of the next coalition government. Meanwhile the pro-business liberals (FDP) garnered 13 per cent, followed by the far-right AfD with 11 per cent and the hard-left Die Linke at 6 per cent.

On Tuesday, a separate poll by the Forsa institute showed the SPD pulling ahead of the CDU/CSU for the first time in 15 years.

The latest results prompted CSU leader Markus Soeder - who lost out to Laschet in the race to be the CDU/CSU chancellor candidate - to issue a stark warning: "We must do everything to prevent a historic shift to the left in Germany," he told Bild am Sonntag newspaper.

"Never before has the danger been so great that a left-wing alliance will take power."

Just weeks ago, Laschet was seen as the clear frontrunner to succeed outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel, also from the CDU.

Merkel has led the centre-right to four successive electoral victories and has dominated German politics as chancellor for nearly 16 years.

Alongside Laschet, Olaf Scholz of the SPD and Green Party leader Annalena Baerbock are the other candidates in the 2-hour debate broadcast by the RTL and ntv channels.

In September, public broadcasters ARD and ZDF will host their own debate, as will TV stations ProSieben, Sat.1 and Kabeleins, which belong to one group.

Laschet, who is also premier of Germany's most populous state, North Rhine Westphalia, said on Saturday that he would make clear at the TV debate what the CDU/CSU stands for and "where the differences are compared to the Red-Green coalition."

On Sunday, he held out the prospect of financial incentives for homeowners who install solar panels, in an editorial for the Welt am Sonntag newspaper focusing on his energy and climate policy plans.

Baerbock meanwhile weighed in on another key election campaign topic on Sunday - the coronavirus - commenting to reporters that she supported more freedoms for those who had either been vaccinated, or who had recovered from a Covid-19 infection.

This kind of model, now being applied in the city of Hamburg, was the correct one, she told the Funke media group. Negative virus tests do not carry equal weight under this model.

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