Armin Laschet has unleashed a volley of attacks on front-runner Olaf Scholz as candidates to replace Angela Merkel as the debated German leader for the second time.
Scholz of the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), currently Germany’s finance minister, denied that his office was under direct investigation by prosecutors following searches of finance ministries last week and of the justice of the country.
The raids were part of an investigation into a federal anti-money laundering agency. Scholz’s services are suspected of failing to report multi-million euro money laundering suspicions to the courts.
“If my finance minister worked like you, we would have a serious problem,” Scholz Laschet, of the center-right Union bloc, told Scholz Laschet.
His second line of attack concerned the possible coalition that Scholz could form with the Greens but also the far left party Die Linke.
However, Laschet’s combative style failed to change the game.
The 60-year-old, who presents himself as Angela Merkel’s natural successor, languishes in the polls with the CDU-CSU bloc poll at about 21% – a historically low level.
The SPD is in the lead, with just under 26% of the polls, with environmentalists expected to finish third with 16.2% of the vote.
Post-debate polls all gave the advantage to Scholz, described as “the most convincing” by 41%, ahead of Laschet and Annalena Baerbock of the Greens, who got 27% and 25% respectively.
Much of Sunday’s debate was devoted to substantive issues, including party policies on housing, health, pensions, taxation and immigration.
Laschet found himself in difficulty when, pressed by the other two candidates on climate policy, he had to distance himself from Merkel, specifying that he is “not a member of the government”.
Scholz, who is seen by many as the continuity candidate despite belonging to a party other than Merkel, has presented himself as the leader who would build on the sense of solidarity seen during the coronavirus pandemic, increasing the minimum wage and ensuring stable pensions for decades to come – in part by reintroducing a wealth tax for Germany’s wealthiest.
Meanwhile, Baerbock, whose party has slipped in the polls, has largely refrained from personal attacks on rivals and instead focused on his issues of social justice and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. .
The third and final debate takes place on September 23, three days before the elections.