With German elections just over a week away, a magazine photograph of Social Democrat leader, Peer Steinbrueck, making a rude gesture with his middle finger is the talk of the country.
The 66-year-old gave the finger in a photoshoot for a magazine where celebrities are asked a question, but can only reply with a gesture. He was responding to being asked how he felt about the gaffe-prone early months of his campaign.
The action was splashed across the front pages of German newspapers.
On the streets of Berlin, there was a mixed reaction. One local resident said: “I don’t think he should have done this, because other citizens don’t have photos taken of them to get into the papers. I don’t think you should show yourself like this.”
Another said she preferred to judge Steinbrueck on his policies:“What matters is what he is standing for and what he wants to do and what his programme is. If I agree with that I will vote for him and if not then I won’t. Sometimes it is good to have a politician who gives his opinion and is a bit different from the establishment.”
The former finance minister is not the only one to be known for a symbolic gesture. Merkel’s trademark folded hands have been reproduced on a giant poster made up of hundreds of photos of hands.
CDU Secretary General, Hermann Gröhe, praised the image, saying: “These good hands are where the future of Germany lies, they are the hands of 2000 people who represent the thousands of people who work hard.”
Steinbrueck’s Social Democrat party has made late gains in the opinion polls, although Merkel’s conservatives are still well ahead. The latest polls show his centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) rising to 26 percent and the combined leftist opposition just a point behind Merkel’s coalition at 44 percent.
Steinbrueck believes he and his allies the Greens could still win if they can mobilise the millions of supporters who stayed at home in the last two elections. It’s estimated that 20 to 40 percent of Germany’s 60 million voters are still undecided.
New on the electoral scene is AfD, or Alternative for Germany, who want to get rid of the euro.
They could throw a spanner in the works for Merkel’s coalition by denying them the majority they need to continue governing.