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Friday, 13 September, 2002, 10:47 GMT 11:47 UK
German poll too close to call
Chancellor Schroeder (right) and Mr Stoiber
Iraq has become a wild card in this election

To guess who will win this election, look at the record of the last two. The winner in both 1994 and 1998 was the candidate who promised clear leadership, and who won in the former communist region of eastern Germany.

In 1994, the Christian Democrat Helmut Kohl won, even though he had patently failed to fulfil his promise that eastern Germany would become a "flourishing landscape".

Cyclist passes Schroeder poster
Opinion polls suggest it will be a tight contest

The region was in a deep crisis. But the Social Democrats presented three joint leaders, including Gerhard Schroeder.

Mr Kohl headed a united team, and won narrowly, thanks to his support in the east.

By 1998, Chancellor Kohl was behaving autocratically, and later it emerged he was managing a slush fund of unlawful, undeclared donations.

Gerhard Schroeder was a fresh face. He won the east, and the country, from the conservatives.

In 2002, Gerhard Schroeder has used the wild card of his opposition to America's Iraq policy to get back into a race he once seemed to have lost.

Open in new window : Key election graphs
Click here to see German election statistics

His anti-American tone plays especially well in eastern Germany, though some German voters will shrink from following him into what may be a diplomatic wilderness.

In office Mr Schroeder's easy style was a relief after the stodgy self-righteousness of Helmut Kohl.

Rudolf Scharping
The Scharping scandal was an embarrassment to Schroeder

The Germans liked his assured manner, with his designer suits and Havana cigars.

But Mr Schroeder's vanity may be his downfall. He sued a German news agency over a claim that he dyed his hair to stay looking young.

Mr Schroeder won the case, but faced ridicule for being drawn into such a petty quarrel.

Mr Schroeder is now under attack for failing to meet his promise to bring German unemployment below 3.5 million.

The figure is well over four million.

But Helmut Kohl's victory in 1994 shows that a self-confident Chancellor can survive even such a blatant broken promise.

Gerhard Schroeder can claim some success in making Germany more progressive and outward-looking.

He made it easier for foreign guest workers to get German citizenship and the right to vote. But a lot has gone wrong.

  • Germany has slipped down Europe's economic league. Its growth rate, budget deficit and bankruptcy statistics are worse than those of most of its neighbours. Mr Schroeder has lost the confidence of much of the business community.

  • His red-green coalition is looking worn. His Green foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, is still popular, but green policies like energy taxes are less so in tough economic times. Mr Schroeder has also co-operated with the ex-communist Party of Democratic Socialists, which many western Germans distrust.

  • His cabinet has been accident-prone. The defence minister Rudolf Scharping became a laughing stock when he left his wife and was pictured in the media cavorting with his new girlfriend in a swimming pool on Majorca. Mr Schroeder waited too long before sacking him.

For many years, as prime minister of Lower Saxony around Hanover, Gerhard Schroeder was an outsider to national politics.

He never really fought for the top job: his party offered it to him in 1998 when they had no alternative.

Winner on paper

On paper Edmund Stoiber, the Christian Social Union leader in Bavaria, should win the election because he offers clear leadership and could win the biggest share of votes in the east.

Edmund Stoiber
Stoiber is seen as rock solid as a conservative politician

Before he was chosen as the conservative candidate, his CDU-CSU alliance had looked weak and divided.

It was suffering from the Kohl slush fund scandal.

The CDU leader Angela Merkel lacked voter appeal.

But Mr Stoiber quickly became the frontrunner.

He is from the CDU's sister party, untainted by scandal and leader of Germany's most prosperous hi-tech region.

In the east, voters are ready to be wooed by whichever party offers the chance of a better life.

Mr Stoiber has a trump card: he plans to appoint Lothar Spaeth to be economics minister.

Mr Spaeth is a hero to many in the east, a politician-turned-industrialist who runs the company Jenoptik, one of the few real success stories there.

Edmund Stoiber lacks Mr Schroeder's media skills, but is seen as rock solid as a conservative politician and administrator.

He would be a sure bet to win the election, except for two other things.

  • He is Bavarian, and many Germans from other regions mistrust Bavarians as beer-swilling rednecks. Mr Stoiber is tough on law and order. He wants to deport without trial non-German immigrants accused of serious crimes. The last time a CSU leader stood in national elections he lost heavily. That was the reactionary Franz-Josef Strauss, in 1980. Edmund Stoiber was Strauss' right-hand man.

  • An incumbent German Chancellor has a big advantage. Never so far has a chancellor been voted out after a single term in office.

Gerhard Schroeder could become the first. But he is counting on the tribal loyalties of northern and eastern Germans, as well as the women's vote, to help him stay in power. It may be a photo finish.

Gerhard Schroeder

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08 Sep 02 | Europe
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