German polls open for election that will usher in end of Merkel era

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Polls opened on Sunday morning across Germany to elect a new federal parliament and that will determine who will succeed Angela Merkel as Chancellor.

Some 60.4 million people are expected to cast their ballot before 18:00 CET.

The election was too close to call on Friday with Merkel’s centre-right Union bloc (CDU-CSU) polling a very close second to the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD). If these projections were confirmed, finance minister Olaf Scholz would then secure the country’s top job after 16 years of Merkel in power.

Coalitions have been a fixture of German federal politics for decades and this election is unlikely to buck the trend. Negotiations could take weeks or months and would thus require Merkel to remain at the helm in a caretaker capacity until a power-sharing deal is struck.

The CDU-CSU and SPD have been in multiple power-sharing agreements together, including in the last government. This time around, they’re both hoping they can make do without the other.

The Green Party, which is expected to come in third place with about 17% of the vote, have signalled they’re willing to enter into government with the SPD. This could see them return to power for the first time since the 1950s.

However, this is quite a reversal of fortunes for the party which was leading in the polls until April. The party’s chances were hurt after its candidate for chancellor, Annalena Baerbock, was hit by a series of setbacks including accusations of plagiarism and undeclared bonuses.

An SPD-Green alliance would however not be enough to secure a majority in the Bundestag. The radical left Die Linke could then be brought in, although it would be expected to give up its criticism of NATO.

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The Free Democrats are likely to have the envious role of kingmaker.

For Scholz, an alliance with the pro-business FDP is more palatable than with Die Linke, while Armin Laschet — the candidate for Merkel’s Union bloc — is also pinning his hope on an alliance with the FDP and the Greens.

Laschet, who cast his vote in Aachen, in the central-western North-Rhine Westphalia lander he leads, told reporters: “We can all feel that this is a very important election, an election which will decide which direction Germany is going to take in the coming years.”

“That is why it depends on every single vote and I hope that everybody uses their right to vote so that the Democrats (CDU) will be able to form a new government,” he added.

The far-right AfD, which entered the Bundestag for the first time four years ago, is expected to confirm its parliamentary foothold with around 10% but remains excluded from any possible coalition.


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