The candidates arrived for their only tv debate with everything to play for. Frank-Walter Steinmeier knew his former coalition partner was ahead in the polls, but hoped a good performance could pull her back. Chancellor Angela Merkel has lost leads before: in 2005 she was seen as losing a tv head-to-head, and then only squeaked past the finishing line.
“I’m aiming for another coalition, this time with the Free Democrats,” she said. “I believe that at the heart of the next legislative term will be the need to create jobs quickly, by generating growth, and we can do that better with the FDP because we have more in common with them.” “This country needs a social democracy right now,” countered Steinmeier. “Above all when we discuss how to get ourselves out of this crisis.” A major campaign issue is Afghanistan, and whether German troops should come home. Last week’s fatal airstrike in Kunduz, called in by a German officer, has pushed Afghanistan to the top of the agenda. “We have to have a clear timetable on how long we need to be there,” said Steinmeier. “Our purpose is to make ourselves superfluous in Afghanistan, but this will only work if the security forces there can work on their own.” “Afghanistan is in a period of transition, and we have to get the Afghan security forces up to speed as quickly as possible,” said Merkel. “We need to discuss that with the Afghans and with the international community, and we must push Afghanistan to take control of its own destiny.” The gloves never really came off in the debate, which was described by some as an old married couple agreeing to disagree. How far apart they are will be revealed on the 20th.