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Merkel’s ‘natural heir’: how Olaf Scholz won Germany’s election

Angela Merkel’s determination to give up Germany’s political stage after 16 years as chancellor left hundreds of thousands of votes up for grabs. In Sunday’s election, Olaf Scholz seized them with each palms — and gained.

From the beginning of the marketing campaign Scholz, the Social Democrats’ candidate for chancellor, doggedly focused the numerous Germans who had backed Merkel within the final 4 elections however had no sturdy allegiance to her Christian Democratic Union.

“They’re the Merkel Sozis,” stated one Scholz aide — individuals who “voted CDU/CSU whereas Merkel was in cost however may [now] ponder voting SPD or Inexperienced”.

“They’re individuals who admire Merkel’s unpretentiousness, her good sense of humour, her calmness — and see precisely the identical qualities in Olaf,” he added.

The method paid off, with spectacular outcomes. Simply months in the past, the SPD was languishing at round 15 per cent within the polls. On Sunday it won the election with 25.7 per cent of the vote, and the CDU/CSU slumped to the worst lead to its historical past.

All through the marketing campaign, Scholz had harassed that this election can be completely different from these earlier than it. For the primary time in Germany’s postwar historical past, an incumbent chancellor was not standing for re-election. His perception was that Merkel quitting the stage meant voters would select the candidate greatest certified to fill her footwear, no matter occasion.

Speaking to the Financial Times in June, Scholz stated the main target on this 12 months’s election can be much less on who had the perfect insurance policies than on “which individual can we need to run the nation”. Most voters, he stated, would in the end determine it needs to be him.

CV: Olaf Scholz

Born 14 June 1958

1977-84 After going to highschool in Hamburg, studied legislation on the metropolis‘s college

Olaf Scholz with Chancellor Gerhard Schröder in 2004
Olaf Scholz with Chancellor Gerhard Schröder in 2004 © Getty Photos

1985 Certified as a lawyer

1998 Elected to the Bundestag

2001 Served as inside minister of the city-state of Hamburg

2007-2009 Federal minister of labour and social affairs

2009-2018 Deputy chair of the SPD and performing chair for 3 months in 2018

2011-2018 Mayor of Hamburg

March 2018 Appointed federal minister of finance

Scholz turned out to be proper. He was in a position to current himself as Merkel’s pure successor, regardless of coming from one other occasion. The virtues classically attributed to Merkel — pragmatism, sobriety, dependability, and a wealth of expertise in workplace — appeared to switch magically from the chancellor to her finance minister.

“Scholz was in a position to slip into the position of incumbent,” stated Andrea Römmele, professor of communication in politics on the Hertie Faculty in Berlin.

The chancellor’s determination to bow out additionally lifted a curse that had dogged the SPD for years. As junior associate in her “grand coalition” for the previous 8 years, it performed a decisive position in shaping coverage: it was because of the SPD that Germany launched a minimal wage in 2015, for instance. However voters routinely rewarded Merkel, not the Social Democrats, for these successes.

That modified this 12 months. “As a result of Merkel wasn’t working once more, the SPD was in a position to take the credit score for all its achievements in authorities — which the chancellor would have claimed for herself if she’d been standing,” stated Römmele.

Scholz’s different vital perception was that adjustments in Germany’s political panorama may in the end profit the SPD greater than its conservative rival. Requested in the summertime how he thought the Social Democrats may recuperate within the polls, he expressed a confidence that appeared misplaced on the time — however which on reflection was justified.

“The period when one occasion bought 40 per cent or extra of the vote is over,” he informed the FT. “Now we have a multi-party system the place the large events have many fewer seats than they used to — and that implies that solely minor adjustments in voter behaviour can create utterly new constellations.”

It was a prescient view. Scholz is now eyeing an SPD-led, three-party coalition, the primary in Germany for the reason that Fifties.

Scholz’s path to the highest has not been easy. Unloved in his personal occasion, the previous federal labour minister and mayor of Hamburg suffered a humiliating defeat within the 2019 contest for the SPD management, dropping out to a pair of little-known leftwingers.

Many Social Democrats are suspicious of him, figuring out him with contentious labour and welfare reforms pushed via by Gerhard Schröder, the final Social Democrat chancellor, underneath whom Scholz served as SPD secretary-general.

Saskia Esken, one of many pair who defeated him in 2019, even solid doubt in a TV interview that 12 months on whether or not Scholz was a “true, steadfast Social Democrat”.

But regardless of the occasion’s distrust, it nominated Scholz as its candidate for chancellor in August final 12 months. On the time, the SPD was at a nadir within the polls, and few within the occasion anticipated him to have the ability to flip spherical its fortunes. Cynics stated the occasion’s leftwingers noticed him as a handy scapegoat if the SPD went right down to a crushing electoral defeat.

Finance minister Olaf Scholz, left, and chancellor Angela Merkel at a coalition cabinet meeting
Finance minister Olaf Scholz, left, and chancellor Angela Merkel at a coalition cupboard assembly © Hayoung Jeon/EPA/Shutterstock

Some in Berlin additionally stated the choice to nominate Scholz had come far too early — greater than a 12 months earlier than the election. But it turned out to be a wise transfer. “It meant we have been in a position to create a customized marketing campaign precisely tailor-made to Scholz”, stated Jens Zimmermann, an SPD MP. “We may put collectively an excellent, well-thought-through plan of motion.”

Scholz hardly put a foot flawed — in contrast to his rivals. Armin Laschet, candidate for the CDU/CSU, noticed his ballot numbers plummet after laughing throughout a go to to areas devastated by flooding. Annalena Baerbock, the Inexperienced candidate, needed to combat off accusations of plagiarism and adorning her CV.

Scholz, in distinction, got here throughout as a seasoned politician individuals stated they might belief. He was credited with deftly steering Germany’s public funds via the pandemic.

He additionally ran an uncluttered marketing campaign based mostly on easy guarantees — the next minimal wage, secure pensions, extra reasonably priced housing and a carbon-neutral economic system.

And on a regular basis, the SPD — a rambunctious occasion lengthy troubled by infighting — stood solidly behind their candidate. “Now we have not been this united in years,” stated Zimmermann.

Working such a personalised marketing campaign so tightly targeted on Scholz the politician may have backfired. Nevertheless it appears to have paid dividends.

Franziska Reisener, a pensioner, was certainly one of dozens of people that gathered in Potsdam final Saturday to listen to his final marketing campaign speech. She stated she’d be voting SPD, largely based mostly on her religion in Scholz. “He’s by the far essentially the most credible candidate of the three,” the pensioner stated. “He’s the one who’ll get issues completed.”

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