Germany's Election-Season Consensus: Yawn German voters go to the polls in national elections at the end of September. But so far, it has been a lackluster race. Despite recent pressure on Chancellor Angela Merkel over German troops in Afghanistan and smaller parties' electoral gains, most Germans seem content with the status quo.
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Germany's Election-Season Consensus: Yawn

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Germany's Election-Season Consensus: Yawn

Germany's Election-Season Consensus: Yawn

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GUY RAZ, host:

Voters in Germany go to the polls at the end of the month, and so far, it's been a lackluster campaign. One newspaper editorial went so far as to say the only way Chancellor Angela Merkel could fail to be re-elected is if she were filmed robbing a supermarket.

NPR's Eric Westervelt reports from Berlin on the battle against election boredom.

ERIC WESTERVELT: The editors of the satirical German magazine Titanic founded a tongue-in-cheek political party called The Party. They probably garnered about as much interest and certainly more smiles than the dreary national election campaign.

The Party's sardonic platform includes a plan to turn most of eastern Germany into a wildlife preserve, to retroactively charge Easterners for all the West German TV they secretly watched under communism, and to rebuild every inch of the Berlin Wall.

The Party's founder and chairman, Martin Sonneborn.

Mr. MARTIN SONNEBORN (Founder and chairman, The Party): (Through Translator): Dividing Germany into two for good: That is our mission.

(Soundbite of cheering crowd)

WESTERVELT: The satire has proved popular during a campaign that has been about as exciting as sorting the recycling. No one said democracy had to be electrifying. But there was hope, especially on this, the 20th anniversary of the end of communism, that it would at least be substantive.

Reporter and editor Jorg Schonenborn anchors election coverage for the leading German TV network, ARD.

Mr. JORG SCHONENBORN (Editor in chief, ARD): The German electorate is kind of bored. And the surprise this year is that in spite of the economic situation, there are no real issues in this campaign.

WESTERVELT: Do you get bored covering this race or not?

Mr. SCHONENBORN: Actually, I was bored. Now, I'm sitting here in my office with new poll data, and I'm actually looking for something exciting. So I hope I won't be bored any longer.

WESTERVELT: There are big issues at stake: a financial crisis, German troops in Afghanistan, European Union integration, and the role of Europe's largest economy in combating global warming. But so far, there's been no vigorous public debate. German voters appear uninspired.

Peter Hartmann, an entrepreneur from Bremen in Northwest Germany, says he's lost faith in the parties that have dominated German politics in the postwar era: the Social Democrats and their rivals, the Christian Democrats.

Mr. PETER HARTMANN: (Through Translator) The two leading parties have nothing to offer anymore. They have no new or fresh ideas. Instead of differentiating themselves by clear policy proposals, they simply attack each other over petty things. More and more people have understood this, so they're starting to lean toward the smaller parties because at least they seem to have real programs.

WESTERVELT: Those smaller parties did well during recent regional elections. Those polls were embarrassing setbacks for incumbent Chancellor Angela Merkel. Analysts said it might be time for her to change her deliberately low energy campaign strategy.

Merkel is coming under some political pressure over the German military presence in Afghanistan. A recent NATO air strike called in by German commanders apparently killed a number of Afghan civilians, along with Taliban fighters. The air strike sparked a new round of criticism over Germany's controversial eight-year-old military mission in Afghanistan.

Compounding the relative lack of campaign sparks is the fact that incumbent Chancellor Merkel's rival for the top job is a key member of her own coalition government. Frank-Walter Steinmeier of the Social Democrats is Merkel's current foreign minister. The rival parties agree on most key issues.

Constanze Stelzenmuller, a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund, says that reflects the attitude of a majority of the population.

Dr. CONSTANZE STELZENMULLER (Senior Fellow, German Marshall Fund): Germans do tend to agree in a cautious approach to foreign policy. They agree in a cautious approach to welfare state reform and to economic reform. So the, if you will, dirty little secret of this election is that the chancellor and her challenger are really not that far apart.

WESTERVELT: So 20 years after Germans danced on top of the crumbling Berlin Wall, welcoming the end of communism and the start of reunification, voters this year appear ready to again embrace Merkel's quiet pragmatism and stability over the smaller party's promises of dynamic change and bold leadership.

Eric Westervelt, NPR News, Berlin.

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