Germany was voting Sunday in one of the most unpredictable elections in its recent history, with Angela Merkel’s conservatives and the centre-left Social Democrats in a tight race for her crown as she prepares to leave the political stage.
The epochal election ushers in the end of 16 years in power for Merkel and places Germany, a byword for stability, in a new period of uncertainty.
Opinion polls show the race for the chancellery headed for a photo finish, with Merkel’s CDU-CSU conservative alliance on around 23 percent, just behind the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) on 25 percent-well within the margin of error.
“We will certainly see some surprises on Sunday,” said Nico Siegel, head of the Infratest Dimap polling company.
Despite the SPD’s lead in the polls, a victory for the conservatives “can’t be ruled out”, he said. “The race for first place is wide open.”
Polls will close at 1600 GMT, with exit polls to be published just after.
But with 40 percent of the electorate casting their ballot by post-including Merkel herself, trends of first estimates could well change when the postal votes are taken into account once the count begins.
President Frank-Walter Steinmeier was among the early voters on Sunday, declaring that “to vote is to live democracy” as he cast his ballot in Berlin.
The two men jostling for the top job-Finance Minister and Vice Chancellor Olaf Scholz, 63, of the SPD, and Armin Laschet, 60, of the CDU-CSU-voted in their respective hometowns of Potsdam and Aachen.
Laschet stressed that “every vote counts” in an election that would determine “the direction of Germany in the next years”, while Scholz said he hoped the good weather was “a good sign” for his party.
At a polling station in Aachen, voter Ursula Becker, 62, told AFP: “This year it’s quite exciting who it will be, and it’s always important who governs.”
In Berlin, Hagen Bartels, 64, said he was expecting “the surprise that the biggest party is not the SPD but probably the CDU”.