With two weeks to go and everything to play for, Germany’s federal election is getting emotional – and dirty.
Social-media feeds of German politicians – and journalists – are bristling with Trump and Nazi comparisons as the country faces its most crucial election since 2005.
That year's election secured a narrow victory to the centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and began Angela Merkel's 16 years as chancellor. When her fourth and final term ends on September 26th; her party fears the opposition benches loom.
Trailing six points in polls, CDU leader Armin Laschet has stepped up his attacks on the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) and its lead candidate Olaf Scholz.
At a rally in Nuremberg on Saturday Mr Laschet suggested an SPD-led coalition with the Greens – and possibly the far-left Linke – would amount to an "attack on German prosperity".
“In all postwar decisions, Social Democrats stand on the wrong side,” he said, adding after cheers, “in economic and finance policy”.
That clip, minus the qualifier, soon began circulating on social media, triggering angry responses from SPD supporters. Some compared Saturday’s Nuremberg election gathering to the Nazi-era gatherings; others accused Mr Laschet of populist tricks from the Trump playbook.
SPD candidate Olaf Scholz suggested the CDU was suffering from historical amnesia. “The SPD fought for democracy against [Prussian] dictatorship,” he said. “It stood against the fascists. This is a democratic party that always stood on the right side.”
Fuelling the SPD counter-attack, party secretary general Lars Klingbeil accused the CDU of "dirty campaigning" and of "abandoning decency, it belongs in opposition".
On Twitter he listed SPD achievements he was proud of: "No to the Iraq war, Brand's Ostpolitik, introduction of minimum wage and . . . marriage equality."
“We pushed these through against the conservatives,” he added. “This is a party in absolute panic but we’re staying cool.”
CDU officials, delighted to see their candidate finally trending on social media, were anxious not to waste a good row, soon hit back. They accused Mr Klingbeil of spreading fake news and “disinformation” by retweeting a shortened clip of Mr Laschet.
In the last days, the CDU candidate has stepped up his attacks on the SPD's refusal to rule out a coalition with the Linke, who are cool on Germany's European Union membership and want Nato abolished.
Now Mr Laschet is attacking the record of the SPD on the economy and Mr Scholz. As minister for finance he succeeded, said Mr Laschet, only because Chancellor Merkel “always kept an eye on him”.
The CDU candidate has also demanded an apology from Mr Scholz for criticising prosecutors who raided the finance ministry last Thursday as part of an investigation into Germany’s government’s anti-money-laundering agency.
Some SPD officials suggested the raid and its timing was politically motivated, two weeks before the election, given it relates to an employee based across the country in Cologne.
Mr Scholz suggested the prosecutors could have taken a “more straightforward approach” and put their questions to his officials in writing.
“I hope he apologises,” said Mr Laschet. “At a time when prosecutors are searching a ministry, the right response is to say we will help prosecutors, not to cast doubt on the rule of law. That helps populists when you react like that.”
In response to the weekend attacks, Mr Scholz said on Sunday he found it “remarkable that the CDU clearly has no issues of its own any more”.
With 41 per cent of voters still undecided, about 20 million people were expected to watch Sunday evening's television debate between the CDU and SPD leaders, joined by Green Party leader Annalena Baerbock.