Peer Steinbruck, Merkel's rival, gives Germany the finger
Has Social Democrat killed or enhanced his chances of becoming Chancellor by 'flipping the bird'?
GERMANS are divided over a magazine cover showing Peer Steinbruck – the man who is hoping to replace Angela Merkel as Germany's Chancellor – making an obscene one-finger gesture.
The 66-year-old Social Democrat candidate ‘flips the bird' on the front cover of today's edition of Süddeutsche Zeitung Magazin.
The Times says the obscene gesture may well be the "final nail in the coffin" of Steinbruck's campaign which had been struggling in the run-up to the 22 September poll. But the Wall Street Journal believes it "could be the most authentic move so far in Germany's election campaign".
One thing is sure: Steinbruck has no-one to blame but himself.
The former finance minister agreed to be part of a photo shoot in which prominent people were asked to respond to questions using gestures rather than words. Asked by a journalist to respond to claims that he was so prone to gaffes that he had earned the nickname ‘Peerlusconi', he raised his middle finger.
It later emerged that an aide advised him to forbid the magazine from using the picture, but was overruled by his boss. "No, it's OK," Steinbruck reportedly said.
The gesture highlights the "risk-taking appetite and outspokenness of the former finance minister," the Wall Street Journal says. Recent photographs of Merkel have been rather more dignified in contrast. The Economist has her standing on a pedestal while she's seated on a throne on the cover of Der Spiegel.
As the picture of Steinbruck went viral today, he did his best to capitalise on it. He tweeted that "straight talk" – the name of his election campaign – doesn't always have to be spoken in words.
Der Spiegelpoints out that an ordinary German citizen could be fined as much as €4,000 if they aimed the same gesture at someone in the street. "Will it [the picture] haunt him?" the paper asks.
Germany's economics minister, Philipp Rösler, believes it should. "That's unacceptable," he said. "You can't do that as a Chancellor candidate."
The latest polls suggest that Merkel is still the favourite to win the election, but her lead has "ebbed" in recent weeks. Some pundits were predicting a "photo-finish", but it remains to be seen what effect Steinbruck's middle finger will have on the vote. ·