She stands for continuity but Merkel has changed Germany and made room for the far-right

A lacklustre campaign and an uncharismatic opposition have opened the door to let in the shadows of Germany's dark past

A screen that shows the TV debate between German Chancellor Angela Merkel of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and her challenger Germany's Social Democratic Party SPD candidate for chancellor Martin Schulz in Berlin, Germany, September 3, 2017. German voters will take to the polls in a general election on September 24.  Mediengruppe RTL Deutschland (MG RTL D)/Handout via REUTERS     ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVE.
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IT is fair to say that the vast majority of Germans have been raised to heights of frenzied apathy by the 2017 election campaign - despite the tectonic changes it will wreak on the national landscape..

Angela "Mummy" Merkel is cruising for a comfortable win, notwithstanding a few close encounters with airborne tomatoes, campaign-trail insults and a cleaning lady who pinned her down on air about her paltry pension after 40 years of work.

Her so-called prime-time TV confrontation  with rival Martin Schulz of the centre-left Social Democratic party was so dull, the exchanges between Europe's most powerful woman and the former EU President who wants to unseat her that it was dubbed a "duet instead of a duel."

Germans, a rather insular people, have not taken to the streets en masse demanding change.  The economy is whirring, joblessness palatably low, the emissions scandals of the car giants seemingly remote from everyday life.

This disinterest in the election comes despite the fact that after the vote is in, their country will have changed - and changed forever.

For although the preacher's daughter raised in the former communist east of a divided land will enter the history books by dint of her fourth victory, there is a dark and sinister corollary to it, that she - and most of her countrymen - prefer not to talk about.


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Her decision to open the country's borders to unchecked immigration over the past two years has opened the Pandora's Box of the country's dark past, propelling into the parliament that bogeyman that all Germany's leaders feared most: a hard right-wing opposition tapping into the basest emotions of the national character.

The Alternative for Germany party (AfD) is set to win seats at the polls on Sunday. In four of the last five polls conducted before Sunday's vote, the anti-immigrant, EU-sceptic party has pulled up to third place. What began as an act of great humanity, borne in part out of Germany's lingering guilt for the Second World War, has morphed into Ms Merkel's political legacy: perhaps, in the long run, even her epitaph.

Across the economic powerhouse of the continent the social fabric of society has been tearing ever thinner.  While bogus right-wing scare stories of migrants raping, abusing, burgling and stealing have proved to be - mostly -  unfounded, their presence alone has served to trigger the biggest rise in right-wing support since the 1930's. A survey published last weekend by the polling institute Emnid  has the AfD on 11%, behind Ms Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union on 36% and the centre-left SPD on 22%.

They have also provided what passes for excitement on the tepid campaign trail. Bearing "Merkel Get Lost" and "Merkel Must Go" banners - as well as hurling tomatoes at the chancellor - the AfD is the only jolt in an otherwise snoozy vote-harvest.

However many AfD candidates end up in parliament  - and one poll projects they will win  89 seats out of 703 -  they will have been put there  by disaffected voters who deserted Ms Merkel's CDU for the AfD in droves.  And with 15 percent of voters still undecided, the outcome could still be more painful than she currently imagines.

This, say observers, is proof of the greatest fear among liberal politicians - citizens pushed into the embrace of the far-right and its intolerant attitudes which  brought Hitler to power in the 1930's. Given the dangers lurking in this election, one might have expected more fire in the belly from Ms. Merkel, more passion from the blue collar prophet Mr. Schulz in their respective bids to woo the electorate.

But election campaigns in Germany - whether local, regional or national - are not the boisterous affairs seen in many other countries. In their one and only debate, the SPD leader Schulz  succumbed to extreme civility and blew his one and only chance to revive a lackluster campaign. Their  90-minute faceoff on September 3 was more a gentle trading of ideas - about refugees, the economy and even President Trump- than a political brawling match.  Mr. Schulz lived up to his reputation as a charisma-free zone, Ms Merkel to her "Mutti" ('Mummy") nickname, alternately lecturing and admonishing.


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The chancellor is not known for her light popular touch.  When hospital cleaner Petra Vogel confronted her on TV to complain that 40 years of working have earned her a pension of just  654 euros(Dh2,855) per month, Mrs. Merkel was lost for words and short on empathy.

It is hard to define exactly where Mr. Schulz went wrong, except perhaps to say he is no Angela  Merkel. Indeed, there is simply no-one on the horizon of any party to match up to her.

His years steeped in EU burocracy also seem to have exorcised any ability he once had to connect with the man in the street.

Those who thought the Greens might rise once more in Europe's most environmentally-friendly nation have been bitterly disappointed too. The party is currently polling at around eight percent, its raft of new energy proposals failing to enthuse voters.

The general Gleichgültigkeit - apathy - surrounding the election appears to have at least benefitted the far-left Die Linke party, with polls indicating it has the support of 10 per cent of the voting population - enough to make it a force to be reckoned with in parliament.

Come 6.00pm on Sunday evening when the first of the exit polls will - usually with uncanny accuracy - predict the winner of the next election, Germany will be a different place for Angela Merkel to govern.

Being the one who created the problem of the AfD in the first place her task - if she gets four more years - will be to somehow solve it and steer Germany back on to the middle way it so cherishes.


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