Germans vote in election to choose successor to Angela Merkel


German election updates

Germans have started going to the polls in a historic election that will decide who succeeds Angela Merkel as chancellor of Europe’s biggest economy.

Polls published in recent days suggested that the result of Sunday’s contest would be too close to predict, with the centre-right CDU/CSU eating into the lead of the left-of-centre Social Democrats. A large proportion of voters remain undecided.

The SPD has been polling at about 25-26 per cent, ahead of the CDU/CSU at 22-25 per cent, the Greens with 16-17 per cent and the liberal Free Democrats at 10.5-12 per cent.

Most pollsters expected the election to result in Germany’s first-ever three-party coalition, involving either the CDU/CSU, Greens and FDP or the SPD, Greens and FDP.

Merkel’s departure from the political stage after 16 years as chancellor leaves a substantial gap in European leadership. Sunday’s poll marks the first time in Germany’s postwar history that an incumbent chancellor is not standing for re-election.

Olaf Scholz poses for a photograph in Potsdam. His lead in polls has narrowed in recent days © Hannibal Hanschke/Reuters

A focus on the personalities of the candidates running to succeed Merkel has benefited Social Democrat Olaf Scholz, Germany’s finance minister and deputy chancellor for the past three years. He is well known to voters as the man who steered Germany’s public finances through the coronavirus pandemic.

Germans are less familiar with the other main candidates: Armin Laschet of the CDU/CSU, governor of the industrial state of North Rhine-Westphalia; and Annalena Baerbock of the Greens, a 40-year-old MP with no government experience.

Their campaigns have been marred by gaffes that hit their parties’ poll ratings. Laschet was caught laughing on camera in July during a trip to one of the areas in western Germany affected by catastrophic summer floods, while Baerbock has faced accusations of plagiarising parts of a book she published in June and embellishing her CV.

Angela Merkel and Armin Laschet
Angela Merkel and Armin Laschet in Aachen on Saturday. The chancellor has been active in the campaign in an effort to shore up support for her centre-right CDU © Martin Meissner/AP

Merkel campaigned on Saturday alongside Laschet in his home city of Aachen. The chancellor had intended to limit campaign appearances to a minimum, but was forced to take a more active role as her party’s poll numbers fell.

Speaking in Aachen, Merkel lauded Laschet’s governance in North Rhine-Westphalia, commitment to EU unity and ability to “build bridges and take people with him”.

Laschet warned that a vote for the SPD would pave the way for a leftwing, “red-red-green” coalition with the Greens and Die Linke, a hard-left grouping that wants to disband Nato. He said an SPD win would bring “ideological experiments” in economic policy.

Speaking in Potsdam, near Berlin, on Saturday, Scholz pledged a higher minimum wage, stable pensions, more affordable housing, a carbon-neutral economy and better digital infrastructure. “The next decade needs to mark a new start, with a big wave of investments,” he said.

Baerbock also campaigned in the centre of Potsdam. “A quarter of voters are still undecided,” she told ARD TV. “That’s why I’m out here till the last minute — because it makes a difference how strong [the Greens] are in the next Bundestag, for climate and also for the renewal of this country.”

Christian Lindner, FDP leader, warned that the Greens wanted “more state and more regulation”.

“The FDP stands for the exact opposite,” he said.

The stark differences between the Greens and FDP point to the likely complexity of negotiations to form a coalition after Sunday’s election.