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As Merkel Exits, German Voters Mull Big Decision

Chancellor is saying goodbye after 16 years, and a national election looms
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Sep 24, 2021 4:55 PM CDT
Angela Merkel Prepares to Exit Stage After 16 Years
Candidates for the upcoming German election attend a final televised debate in Berlin on Thursday, ahead of Sunday's election. From left to fourth left: Alice Weidel, co-leader of the Alternative for Germany party (AfD); Christian Lindner, leader of the Free Democratic Party (FDP); Markus Soeder, Christian...   (Tobias Schwarz/Pool via AP)

(Newser) – Germany's political parties prepared to rally their supporters and win over undecided voters Friday, two days before a national election that will determine who succeeds Chancellor Angela Merkel after 16 years in power. Merkel's center-right Union bloc, with Armin Laschet as its candidate for chancellorship, has made small gains in the polls in recent weeks. But it remains narrowly behind the center-left Social Democrats, headed by Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, reports the AP. The Greens, who are putting forward their own candidate for chancellor for the first time, are trailing in third place, but they could play kingmakers when it comes to forming a government.

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About 60.4 million Germans are eligible to vote for a new parliament on Sunday. The strongest party will seek to form a governing coalition. Experts say one reason why this year's German election is tighter and less predictable than usual is that the candidates are relative unknowns to most voters. "It's certainly not the most boring election," says Hendrik Traeger, a political scientist at the University of Leipzig. "There were those in which Angela Merkel stood as the incumbent and it was simply a question of [whom] she would govern with."

This time, Merkel's party has struggled to energize its traditional base, which has so far failed to warm to Laschet, the governor of North Rhine-Westphalia state. "The key question is whether these voters will overcome the Laschet hurdle and vote for the Union despite Laschet," says a rep for the polling company Forsa. "Or will they abstain from the vote or even choose another party."

Climate change has been cited as the most important issue by many in this election. Youth groups plan to stage a large protest outside the chancellery on Friday to demand tougher action on that front. The economy and the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic have also played an important role during the campaign, while migration has been less of a concern to many voters than in 2017. Foreign policy—largely absent from the campaign—became an issue during the final TV debate Thursday, with the Greens calling for a tougher stance on China. (Read more Angela Merkel stories.)

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