September 19, 2017 / 11:18 AM / a month ago

Merkel dismisses hecklers as polls point to fourth term

WISMAR, Germany (Reuters) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel is on track to win a fourth term in Sunday’s national election despite a dip in support for her conservatives, a poll showed on Tuesday, and she shrugged off calls to quit from far-right hecklers.

Merkel has been repeatedly booed during the election campaign, particularly in Germany’s formerly Communist east, where support is strongest for the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD), set to enter parliament for the first time.

An opinion poll published on Tuesday by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung daily put the AfD on 10 percent, up two points since the end of August, while Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) and their Bavarian CSU allies slipped two points to 36.5 percent.

However, the CDU/CSU remain far ahead of the centre-left Social Democrats, which were also down two points on 22 percent, according to the poll conducted by Allensbach for the FAZ, while the business-friendly Free Democrats edged up to 11 percent.

“People who whistle and heckle contribute little,” Merkel told a CDU rally in the northeastern port town of Wismar, not far from where she grew up.

Merkel was unperturbed when a man shouted “Traitor to the fatherland” during her speech, while several dozen supporters of the far-right National Democratic Party gathered outside, carrying posters reading “Merkel must go!”

Hundreds of AfD party members and anti-Islam activists rallied together in the eastern city of Dresden on Monday, counting down the days to a vote set to make the AfD the first far-right group in Germany’s parliament in more than 50 years.

The AfD has capitalised on discontent over the influx of one million migrants into Germany in 2015 and 2016, but the other parties all refuse to work with the AfD and no one wants to sit next to them in parliament.

Merkel contrasted Tuesday’s hecklers with the contribution of 30 million Germans who are involved in voluntary associations, including those who help support refugees.

But she added that the recent wave of migrants “should not and will not be repeated”.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a top candidate of the Christian Democratic Union Party (CDU) for the upcoming general elections, arrives for an election rally in Wismar, Germany, September 19, 2017. REUTERS/Axel Schmidt

Another poll, conducted by Forsa for RTL television and Stern magazine, showed support for Merkel’s CDU/CSU bloc fell one percentage point in the last week to 36 percent, its lowest since April, while the SPD was unchanged on 23 percent.

SPD leader Martin Schulz has been campaigning against inequality, but his message has failed to gain traction at a time when unemployment is at its lowest in decades.

SUPPORT FROM ECONOMY

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The Allensbach poll showed that 21 percent think the CDU has done the best job to address the issues that interest voters, compared to 15 percent for the SPD and 14 percent for the AfD.

In fresh positive news from the economy, the Mannheim-based ZEW research institute said the mood among German investors improved more than expected in September as worries about the stronger euro EUR= faded.

The ZEW survey suggested markets expect Europe’s biggest economy to continue its solid performance in the coming months, buoyed by record-high employment, rising real wages and ultra-low borrowing costs that are supporting a consumer-led upswing.

With Merkel’s conservatives commanding a solid poll lead, the main question in Germany now is who she will govern with after the election, rather than whether she will stay in power.

The latest polls put support for the far-left party Die Linke at 9-10 percent, and the environmentalist Greens on 8 percent.

This means that only another grand coalition of Merkel’s conservatives with the SPD or a three-way alliance of the conservatives, FDP and Greens would have a stable majority.

The Allensbach poll showed 23 percent of voters would prefer a coalition of conservatives with the FDP, while 14 percent want a continuation of the current grand coalition and 10 percent favour an alliance of SPD, Linke and Greens.

Writing by Emma Thomasson, Michael Nienaber and Paul Carrel; editing by Mark Heinrich

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