Berlin, Germany – Voters across Germany are heading 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’s reunification in 1990 that Angela Merkel will not run as a candidate. After 16 years in the chancellery, the woman who became the defining European leader of her time will step down once a new government is formed.
Opinion polls have narrowed in the past week, but the Social Democrats (SPD) maintain a slight lead over Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and her sister party, the Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU), making it the first real competition in many years.
âSince 2005, we knew that the Christian Democrats would become the strongest party and that no one else would be able or willing to form a government against them,â said Thorsten Benner, director of the Berlin-based Global Public Policy Institute. .
Two latest polls released on Friday put the SPD ahead of the CDU-CSU alliance by 26 points at 25 and 25-22, respectively.
Voting ends at 4:00 p.m. GMT with the release of exit polls and a more complete picture of expected results by Monday.
Olaf Scholz of the SPD – the most popular of the chancellor candidates – closed his campaign in his Potsdam constituency on Saturday, repeating the party’s main social policies – including an hourly minimum wage of 12 euros ($ 14), no raising the retirement age and tackling a nursing shortage.
He reiterated his desire to govern with the Greens. âThis is my favorite coalition,â he said.
In the final days before the vote, Merkel leaned heavily behind her successor Armin Laschet, who led a blunder-prone and lackluster race. At a final rally in Aachen, Laschet’s hometown on Saturday, Merkel said the elections were aimed at “keeping Germany stable”. Conservatives have warned that Germany risks a “slide to the left” under Scholz, who refused to rule out entirely an unlikely alliance with the left-wing Socialist Party.
After marching alongside 100,000 protesters at a Fridays for Future demonstration, Annalena Baerbock, the Greens candidate, spent the last day of the campaign in Potsdam, where she is also a representative. She told her constituents that a real revival for Germany can only happen with a strong Green Party and that she always focuses on the campaign “until the last minute”, not on the possibilities. coalition.
Baerbock has escaped a once-promising offer for the Chancellor amid plagiarism and career padding allegations, but her party is expected to double its share of the vote and enter the next government as a junior partner.
Political âvolatility and fragmentationâ
Barbara, 63, a lawyer from Stuttgart, said she would vote for the CDU, and her family members divided their voices in support of an environmental coalition.
“The most important point is the climate,” she told Al Jazeera. “But the climate [protection] is only possible with a functioning economy.
Fan of Merkel, she was not enthusiastic about Laschet and suspected that the centrist Scholz would be dragged to the left by his party.
âAfter 16 years, a new start is good. But I was happy with her because she allowed our country to go through certain crises with an appropriate calm and has a very good reputation in Europe and in the world.
Piet, 30, a student and graphic designer who lives in Berlin’s Wedding district, has said he will switch from SPD to Greens.
“I was totally in agreement with the way the current coalition has handled many past crises, such as the refugee crisis, but recently it has been too slow in terms of real change,” he said. he declares.
Tackling climate change and modernizing Germany’s backward digital infrastructure are priorities for him, and progress has been too slow in both cases. He wants the SPD to lead the next government.
“I would prefer [Scholz] because he can orient himself more towards a changing future than Laschet can â, he added.
Regardless of the final tally, one thing has become clear: the days of the Volkspartei, or the big tent parties that can get over 40% of the vote, have become a thing of the past – which may have long-term implications for German politics. stability.
A rare tripartite coalition will almost certainly be needed to form a majority, and negotiations are expected to take months as parties resolve disputes over foreign policy, taxation and climate protection.
âWe are slowly moving towards a situation that looks more like the Dutch party system,â said Benner, of the Global Public Policy Institute.
“I think you can, you can assume that we have just seen the start of political volatility and fragmentation in Germany.”