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Elections

German election: Merkel drops in polls as Steinbrück lifts middle finger

The opposition Social Democrats have gained slightly in the last pre-election opinion poll by German public broadcaster ARD. Their candidate, Peer Steinbrück, has raised some eyebrows by raising one of his own digits.

Peer Steinbrück photo prompts criticism

Social Democrat challenger Peer Steinbrück made some slight gains in the opinion polls nine days before Germany's general elections on Friday, but grabbed more headlines for his middle-finger-waving appearance in a weekly newspaper supplement.

The Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper regularly publishes pictorial "interviews" with no verbal responses, whose title roughly translates as "say nothing for now," in its SZ-Magazin supplement published each Friday.

Asked his response to the nicknames like "the Problem-Peer" or "Peerlusconi" that have arisen as a result of some campaign gaffes, Steinbrück raised his left middle finger at the camera.

HANDOUT - SPD-Kanzlerkandidat Peer Steinbrück auf dem aktuellen Titel des SZ-Magazins. Im Magazin der «Süddeutschen Zeitung» zeigt Steinbrück den gestreckten Mittelfinger. Er ziert damit rund eine Woche vor der Wahl am Freitag (13.09.2013) die Titelseite des Magazins. Foto: Alfred Steffen/SZ-Magazin/dpa (Nur zur redaktionellen Verwendung bei Nennung der Quelle - Veröffentlichung nur in vollem Format - kein Ausschnitt!) (zu dpa Extra Steinbrück zeigt den «Stinkefinger» vom 12.09.2013)

The supplement's front page

"You don't always need words to speak clearly - for instance if you're constantly confronted by yesterday's news, instead of being asked about the really important issues," Steinbrück said on his official Twitter account.

At a campaign event on Thursday evening, Steinbrück spoke about the unique form of the interview that asks for an emotional response.

"You have to be a little theatrical. And I hope that this republic has the necessary sense of humor to correctly interpret these gesticulations and grimaces which must be used to answer the questions," Steinbrück said, adding he was not aware that his rogue digit was destined for the magazine's front cover.

Merkel's senior Christian Democrats did not immediately respond. The leader of their junior coalition partners the Free Democrats, Philipp Rösler, said on Twitter that "this gesture rules you out as a candidate for chancellor. You just can't do that." The socialist Left Party was similarly critical, with senior member Bernd Riexinger telling the Mitteldeutsche Zeitung that the middle finger marked the "official end of Peer Steinbrück's candidacy for chancellor."

Meager poll boost for Steinbrück

Yet, in opinion polls released on Friday morning, Steinbrück's Social Democrats had made slight gains, taking one percentage point away from Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats.

Nine days before the national election, German public broadcaster ARD released the last installment of its regular Deutschlandtrend opinion poll, with the Christian Democrats slipping to 40 percent support and the Social Democrats climbing to 28.

The Social Democrats' main allies, the Greens, held firm at 10 percent after their summer slump from around the 15-percent mark, and the socialist Left party stood at 8 percent.

Combining the projected tallies of the three main left-of-center parties would put them level-pegging with the current German coalition - however, the Greens and Social Democrats currently claim they are unwilling to team up with the Left party.

The most serious coalition negotiations will likely take place after the September 22 votes are counted. With Merkel's Free Democrat allies teetering right on the 5-percent threshold - which parties must reach to guarantee representation in the German parliament - several constellations of government remain conceivable.

A grand coalition uniting the Christian and Social Democrats was the most popular scenario with participants of the ARD poll. Forty-seven percent of participants believed such an alliance would be "good for Germany," 41 percent were excited by a Social Democrat and Green government, and 38 percent believed a continuation of the current coalition would be good for the country.

msh/kms (AFP, dpa)

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