German election: Candidates meet in final debate

Leading German politicians sparred one last time on an array of issues on Thursday evening, with none of them landing truly telling blows in a broad closing debate. The final debate differed from its predecessors in that seven politicians were invited, not just the three for the main parties. Joining chancellor candidates Annalena Baerbock of the Greens, Olaf Scholz of the Social Democrats (SPD) and Armin Laschet of the Christian Democrats (CDU), was Christian Lindner of the Free Democrats (FDP), Markus Söder of the CDU’s Bavarian sister party, the CSU, and Alice Weidel of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) and Janine Wissler of the Left Party. Söder’s presence, in particular, drew some public attention, with criticism that the conservative bloc was essentially sending two batters up to the plate. The CSU leader, who had put himself forward as chancellor candidate, could team up with Laschet whose campaign has not been going well. The debate took place with a final opinion poll indicating the vote would be too close to call, and potential coalition options wide open. The latest numbers compiled for broadcaster ZDF on Thursday put the SPD ahead on 25%, the CDU/CSU close behind on 23%, the Greens third at 16.5% followed by the FDP on 11%, the AfD on 10% and the Left at 6%. Whatever happens on Sunday, forming a government could be a process of lengthy negotiations and uneasy compromise.