German election: Polls open in tight race to elect new chancellor

Voters across Germany head to polling stations on Sunday to determine the country’s next government and the chancellor who will lead it.

The election will be the first since the county reunified in 1990 that Angela Merkel will not run in as a candidate. After 16 years in the chancellery, the woman who became the defining European leader of her era will step aside once a new government is formed.

Voters across Germany head to polling stations on Sunday to determine the country’s next government and the chancellor who will lead it.

The election will be the first since the county reunified in 1990 that Angela Merkel will not run in as a candidate. After 16 years in the chancellery, the woman who became the defining European leader of her era will step aside once a new government is formed.

Two final surveys published on Friday put the SPD ahead of the CDU-CSU alliance by 26 points to 25 and 25 to 22, respectively.

Voting ends at 16:00 GMT with exit polls to be released after that and a more comprehensive picture of the results expected to emerge by Monday.

SPD’s Olaf Scholz  – the most popular of the chancellor candidates – closed his campaign in his constituency of Potsdam on Saturday, repeating the party’s key social policies – including a 12 euro ($14) hourly minimum wage, no rise in the pension age and tackling a shortage of nursing staff.

He reiterated his desire to govern with the Greens. “This is my favourite coalition,” he said.

In the final days before the vote, Merkel has swung strongly behind her successor Armin Laschet, who has run a gaffe-prone and lacklustre race. At a final rally in Laschet’s home town of Aachen on Saturday, Merkel said the election is “about keeping Germany stable”. The conservatives have been warning that Germany risks a “slide to the left” under Scholz, who has refused to fully rule out an unlikely alliance with the socialist Left party.

After marching alongside 100,000 protesters at a Fridays for Future demonstration, Annalena Baerbock, the candidate for the Green Party, spent the final day of the campaign in Potsdam, where she is also a representative. She told her constituents that a genuine renewal for Germany can only happen with a strong Green Party, and that her focus was still on the campaign “until the last minute”, not coalition possibilities.

Baerbock fumbled a once-promising bid for chancellor amid allegations of plagiarism and career padding, but her party is expected to double its vote share and enter the next government as a junior partner.

Political ‘volatility and fragmentation’

Barbara, 63, a lawyer from Stuttgart, said she would vote for the CDU, and the members of her family have split their votes to support a Green-conservative coalition.

“The most important point is climate,” she told Al Jazeera. “But climate [protection] is only possible with an economy that works.”

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