People voted for the German parliamentary elections (Bundestag) at a polling station in Berlin, Germany, September 26, 2021.

Abdulhamid Hosbas | Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Millions of Germans go to the polls on Sunday for an election that will change the face of Germany and Europe, as Chancellor Angela Merkel prepares to step down after 16 years in power.

Voting at polling stations across Germany takes place between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. local time, but many have already voted by post. Exit polls giving an indication of the outcome of the election will be published shortly after the polls close.

The recent German elections did not hold any real surprises and Merkel’s re-election was generally assured. Since she announced her resignation, however, the election race has been wide open, with voters forced to look elsewhere for new leadership.

Voter polls in the run-up to the September 26 vote have fascinated experts and the public. The Green Party has seen a rebound in popularity and took the lead in the polls at one point in April only to be overtaken by the Social Democratic Party, which has managed to maintain a slight lead in recent weeks.

Meanwhile, Merkel’s ruling conservative alliance of the Christian Democratic Union and the Christian Social Union has failed to pull away from the pack and recent opinion polls have seen the party lagging behind. second place behind the SPD.

Still, the vote is too close to call with polls last week putting the SPD with 25% of the vote and the CDU-CSU with around 22%, while the Green Party is seen with around 16%.

Further behind is the pro-business Liberal Democratic Party with 11%, with the Alternative for right-wing Germany seen with the same share of the vote. The far left party Die Linke is seen with 6% of the vote.

The pretenders

German voters are known to favor stability over charismatic leadership, with Merkel in power for 16 years and presiding over what many Germans considered the country’s “golden age”.

Olaf Scholz, the SPD’s candidate for chancellor, probably benefited from this preference for a “safe pair of hands” in power, given that he has served as German finance minister and vice-chancellor in the current government given the role of the SPD in the coalition with the CDU-CSU.

The other candidates for chancellor – Armin Laschet of the CDU-CSU and Annalena Baerbock of the Greens – had poorer successes in their election campaigns, both affected by several controversies and questions about their ability to lead.

Laschet of the CDU, in particular, saw his ratings drop due to a disappointing election campaign and poor performance in public. Being filmed laughing during a visit to a German town hit by devastating floods, for which he later apologized, also did not strengthen his public personality.

Three televised debates between the main candidates failed to translate into a reversal in the popularity of the CDU-CSU, despite outgoing Merkel’s attempt to revive Laschet’s chances of succeeding her.

The CDU and its sister Bavarian party, the CSU, have dominated German politics since 1949, when the parties formed a parliamentary group and ran for the first federal election after World War II.

In recent years, the party has fallen out of favor with young German voters who prioritize green policies and want to see Germany invest in and modernize its creaky industries and infrastructure. In the last elections of 2017, the CDU-CSU had its worst electoral result since 1949. Although the bloc won 33% of the vote, this figure was itself down from 41.5% in the previous elections in 2013.

Coalition forward

The 2021 vote is even more unpredictable for various factors, such as the division of votes which signals no obvious winners, and the number of postal votes expected this year.

Postal voting was already common in Germany before the pandemic, but election organizers expect up to 50% of postal ballots this time around, up from 28.6% in the 2017 election. given the Covid-19 situation, Deutsche Welle reported.

What is certain is that the next government will be a coalition, with no party having to win enough seats to govern alone. Analysts have spent many months speculating on what form a coalition government might take and whether the CDU-CSU might find itself in opposition after many years in power. Either way, coalition talks are likely to take weeks, if not months.

“Each of the two big parties (the SPD and the CDU / CSU) could form a coalition with the Greens and the center-right liberals (FDP),” Carsten Nickel, deputy director of research at Teneo Intelligence, said on Wednesday in a note.

“A center-left government of the SPD, the Greens and the post-communist left (Die Linke) – and perhaps even another grand coalition of the SPD and the CDU / CSU – could also be possible digitally, but this will not be the first choice, “

“Party leaders will assess the official results in meetings Monday morning, formally offering exploratory talks to potential coalition partners. These talks, as well as subsequent coalition negotiations, could take several weeks, given the likely need to forge an untested three-way coalition. . As in 2017, coalition negotiations could still fail at an advanced stage, requiring the search for alternative combinations, ”Nickel noted.

Angela Merkel has been the face of the CDU, and of Germany, for 16 years.

Volker Hartmann | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Factors to watch will be whether the slight improvement in the polls for the CDU-CSU turns into a last-minute momentum on election day, Nickel said, as well as the situation for the Greens.

Since Annalena Baerbock fell back to third place, she has had strong performances in televised debates, posing as an alternative to her two arguing male contenders; combined with the high turnout expected in towns and by ballot post, the result of the Greens could still potentially surprise. “

The economy

As for the economy, the largest in Europe, whoever takes the head of the chancellery will face challenges, Barclays macro research analyst Mark Cus Babic noted on Thursday.

“A strong economic recovery is underway and the near-term outlook remains strong, in our view, regardless of the outcome of the election, but with the withdrawal of pandemic savings and supply disruptions as key risks. However, several challenges lie ahead. The medium-term outlook will depend on how the new government approaches them, ”he said.

Journalists and party members watch on a press center screen (LR) Olaf Scholz, German finance minister, vice-chancellor and candidate of the Social Democrats (SPD) for chancellor and Armin Laschet, prime minister of the North Rhine-Westphalia state and Christian Democratic Union (CDU) candidate for chancellor as they attend a televised election debate in Berlin on September 12.

JEAN MACDOUGALL | AFP | Getty Images

“Germany faces key challenges such as implementing and funding the green transition, the need for digital transformation, a rapidly aging population, slow productivity growth and dependence on of exports, including to China ”.

Whether Germany remains the engine of European growth will likely depend on the economic policies that the next German government puts in place to overcome these key challenges, noted Cus Babic. “Uncertainty over the election outcome is high, with polls suggesting that the new German government is likely to be a tripartite coalition whose economic policy agenda will be set in coalition talks, with the first consequences materializing from 2023.”


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