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(BBC NEWS) German Chancellor Angela Merkel has backed her centre-right party’s candidate Armin Laschet to succeed her, in an unusually tight poll campaign.
In a CDU rally in Mr Laschet’s home town of Aachen, Mrs Merkel praised him as a “bridge-builder who will get people on board”.
The election is too close to call, with polls putting the centre-right almost neck and neck with the centre-left SPD.
Mrs Merkel has dominated German politics for 16 years as chancellor.
Mrs Merkel had vowed to avoid the campaign for Sunday’s election, but her CDU-CSU alliance has lost what was a comfortable lead in the polls and is now trailing just behind the SPD (Social Democrats) – the junior partners in the current coalition government.
The Green Party is on course to come third, but could still feature in government; analysts say a wide range of coalitions could be technically possible, if politically tricky, to negotiate.
The SPD’s success is largely attributed to its candidate, current Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, who exudes the same understated calm many have admired in Angela Merkel, says the BBC’s Jenny Hill in the capital, Berlin.
But there are a range of issues at the forefront of voters’ minds, including climate change. On Friday, tens of thousands of young activists marched throughout the country to demand greater action to tackle global warming. Climate change has been a central theme in the election campaign.
Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg told crowds in Berlin that no political party was doing nearly enough to fight the climate crisis.
The vote in Europe’s biggest economy, which stands at the heart of the European Union, is being closely watched by allies on the continent and around the world.
Germans are set to elect members of the lower house of the federal parliament, the Bundestag, made up of at least 598 seats, and usually more. Some 60.4 million Germans over the age of 18 are eligible to vote.
Although the winning party becomes clear on the night, the make-up of the next government is only known once the winner is able to form an absolute majority in parliament with one or two other parties, meaning Germany’s new leader will not be known immediately.