Millions of voters in Germany head to the polls on Sunday to elect the new chancellor who will usher the post-Merkel era.
Opinion polls show the race for the chancellery headed for a photo finish, with Merkel’s CDU-CSU conservative alliance on around 23 percent, just behind the center-left Social Democrats on 25 percent — well within the margin of error.
The battle for the chancellery has boiled down to a contest between two men: Finance Minister and Vice Chancellor Olaf Scholz, 63, of the SPD, and Armin Laschet, 60, of the CDU-CSU.
A few weeks ago it looked that the SPD would easily win. That was until Merkel entered the fray, her career at the top of German politics now weeks from coming to an end.
“It really matters who’s in power,” she warned voters repeatedly in the 48 hours before the vote. Her message was that Germany needed stability and its youth needed a future – and Armin Laschet was the man to provide it.
In a final push for votes, the outgoing chancellor joined conservative candidate Armin Laschet at a rally on Saturday in his hometown of Aachen.
According to the Pew Research Center, the departing German Chancellor has been rated positively in almost all of the 16 advanced economies surveyed in North America, Europe and the Asia-Pacific region.
However, Greece stands out as the nation where Merkel’s work is rated negatively by seven out of 10 Greeks.
Most unpredictable elections in Germany for years
Angela Merkel’s decision to depart as chancellor after 16 years has upended German politics and led to the most unpredictable race in years. At various points in the campaign, the SPD, CDU/CSU and the Greens have each been leading the polls.
Climate change has dominated party programs and televised debates more than any other issue. The Green party enjoyed a surge in support earlier this year after naming 40-year-old Annalena Baerbock as its chancellor candidate, at one point even briefly taking the lead as the most popular party.
Around 40 percent of Germany’s 60.4 million eligible voters have said they are undecided, while the same proportion have already cast their ballots by post — including Merkel herself.
Analysts say that even if a clear winner emerges on Sunday evening, Germans will not know the make-up of their government for some time.
The victorious party still needs to form a coalition and there seems little chance of a repeat of the two-party grand coalition currently in charge.
Under Germany’s electoral system, voters cast two ballots for the Bundestag, the federal parliament, which has a base number of 598 seats.
The first is for a candidate to represent one of Germany’s 299 districts, which is determined in a United Kingdom-style first-past-the-post system.
The second is for a party. These votes are distributed according to proportional representation to each party that passes a 5 percent threshold, who chose 299 more candidates from internal lists to represent them.