A voting booth is decorated with a German national flag.

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Millions of Germans are going to an election on Sunday that will change the face of Germany and Europe as Chancellor Angela Merkel prepares to resign 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 cast their votes by postal vote. Outbound polls with reference to the election result will be published shortly after the election is over.

The most recent German elections did not bring any real surprises and Merkel’s re-election was usually guaranteed. However, since her resignation was announced, the election race has been wide open and voters are forced to look elsewhere for new leadership.

Voter polls leading up to the September 26 vote have fascinated experts and the public alike. The Greens enjoyed growing popularity, taking the lead in the polls once in April, only to be overtaken by the Social Democratic Party, which has maintained a slight lead over the past few weeks.

Merkel’s ruling conservative alliance of the CDU and Christian-Social Union has not set itself apart from the crowd, and in current opinion polls the party ranks second behind the SPD.

Nevertheless, the vote with polls in the last week is too tight to reach the SPD with 25% of the votes and the CDU-CSU with around 22%, while the Greens can be seen with around 16%.

Further behind is the business-friendly, liberal FDP with 11%, whereby the right-wing alternative for Germany is seen with the same share of the vote. The radical left party Die Linke is seen with 6% of the vote.

The contenders

German voters are known to prefer stability to charismatic leadership. Merkel has been in power for 16 years and leads what many Germans see as the country’s “golden age”.

Olaf Scholz, the SPD’s candidate for chancellor, is likely to have benefited from this preference for “safe hands” in power, as he was finance minister and vice-chancellor in coalition with the CDU-CSU, given the role of the SPD in Germany’s current government.

The other candidates for chancellor – Armin Laschet from the CDU-CSU and Annalena Baerbock from the Greens – achieved rather mediocre success in the election campaign.

Above all, the CDU boss Laschet lowered his audience ratings due to a disappointing election campaign and a lackluster performance on the public stage. A visit to a German city hit by devastating floods, for which he later apologized for being caught laughing in front of the camera, did nothing to strengthen his public personality.

Three TV debates between the top candidates have not led to a reversal of the popularity of the CDU-CSU, although the outgoing Merkel is trying to revive Laschet’s chances of successor.

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

In recent years, the party has fallen out of favor with younger German voters who prioritize green policies and want Germany to invest in and modernize its fragile industries and infrastructure. In the last election in 2017, the CDU-CSU recorded its worst election result since 1949. Although the bloc received 33% of the vote, it was 41.5% less than in the 2013 area code.

Coalition ahead

The 2021 vote is once again more unpredictable due to a variety of factors such as the vote split, which does not signal an obvious winner, and the number of mail-in votes expected this year.

Postal voting was already common in Germany before the pandemic, but in view of the Covid 19 situation, election organizers are expecting up to 50% postal voting this time, compared to 28.6% in the 2017 election, reported Deutsche Welle.

What is certain is that the next government will be a coalition in which no party is expected to get enough seats to rule alone. For months analysts speculated about what a coalition government might look like and whether the CDU-CSU could find itself in the opposition after many years in power. Coalition talks are likely to last weeks, possibly months, anyway.

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

“A left-centered government of the SPD, the Greens and the post-communist left – and maybe even another grand coalition of the SPD and CDU / CSU – would also be numerically possible, but not the first” selection, “

“The party leaderships will evaluate the official results in meetings on Monday morning and formally offer exploratory talks to potential coalition partners. These talks, as well as the subsequent coalition negotiations, could take several weeks, as an untried three-party coalition is likely to be required.” . As in 2017, coalition negotiations could fail late and make it necessary to search for alternative combinations, ”said Nickel.

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

Volker Hartmann | Getty Images News | Getty Images

It can be observed whether the slight improvement in the polls for the CDU-CSU on election day will turn into a momentum at the last minute, said Nickel, and how things fared with the Greens.

“Since Annalena Baerbock dropped to third place, she has shown solid performance in the TV debates and presented herself as an alternative to her two male competitors; combined with the expected high voter turnout in cities and by postal vote, the result of the Greens could possibly surprise you. “

The economy

As for the economy, the economy, Europe’s largest, whoever takes the helm of the chancellery, will face challenges, Barclays macro research analyst Mark Cus Babic said Thursday.

“A robust economic recovery is underway and we believe the near-term outlook remains solid regardless of the election outcome, but with the decline in pandemic savings and supply disruptions as the main risks. However, several challenges loom. The medium-term outlook will depend on how the new administration approaches them, “he said.

Journalists and party members watch on a screen from the press center (LR) Olaf Scholz, Federal Finance Minister, Vice Chancellor and SPD Chancellor candidate and Armin Laschet, North Rhine-Westphalia’s Prime Minister and the CDU (CDU) Chancellor candidate during a TV election debate in Berlin on December 12th.

JOHN MACDOUGALL | AFP | Getty Images

“Germany is facing key challenges such as implementing and paying for the green transition, the need for digital transformation, a rapidly aging population, sluggish productivity growth and dependence on exports, including to China.”

Whether Germany remains the engine of European growth will likely depend on the economic policies that the next German government uses to address these key challenges, said Cus Babic. “The uncertainty about the outcome of the elections is high, surveys indicate that the new federal government will likely be a three-party coalition whose economic policy agenda will be set in the coalition talks, with first consequences from 2023.”