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Merkel Leads Polls Ahead of German National Elections Sunday


Germans are voting September 27 for a new parliament and with it a new government. Incumbent Chancellor Angela Merkel has been leading in pre-election polls, but her foreign minister is also vying for the top job. Both Ms. Merkel's Christian Democratic Union and Frank Walter Steinmeier's left-of-center Social Democrats are looking ahead to possible coalitions. Voters are worried about Germany's economy and its involvement in Afghanistan.

Posters, slogans, campaign promises - from candidates vying for support from Germany's more than 62 million eligible voters.

At stake are all seats in the lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, and with that a new government.

So, what are voters concerned about?

"For me, the big issue is if we can manage to restructure the economic system - to get more people into jobs and to make sure the country doesn't fall apart," one voter said.

Like most countries, Germany has been hit by the global economic crisis. Even though recent figures show the country is pulling out of recession, Germans are worried, says political analyst Nils Diederich of Berlin's Free University. "It's astonishing that most people say that they personally don't feel problems with this issue [feel directly affected], but there are fears that in the future unemployment and other problems could come to the people," he says, "and so economic problems are the main topic of this election."

Incumbent Chancellor Angela Merkel has been leading in the polls. She hopes her center-right Christian Democratic Union win enough seats to put together her coalition of choice, with the pro-business Free Democrats.

Her main opponent is one of her current coalition partners, Foreign Minister Frank Walter Steinmeier from the left-of-center Social Democrats.

The past four years, Germany has been ruled by a grand coalition of the two main parties - the conservative CDU and the left-leaning SPD - but opinion polls show Germans are disenchanted with this arrangement.

"If you have coalitions, you have to compromise, and compromises make decisions unclear," Diederich said.

That, says Diederich, means voters often do not really understand the decisions being made, and that makes for uncertainty.

And Germany's involvement in Afghanistan has become an issue, after the recent incident in Kunduz, where German commanders called in a NATO air strike against Taliban fighters that also killed civilians.

Germany's involvement in the war is an issue on the minds of voters. "With the involvement of our military, I ask myself if Afghanistan is really so important, just as we asked ourselves if Iraq was handled well," a German voter said.

Germany has 4,500 troops in Afghanistan and most Germans want them out.

"It's a feeling in the majority of voters that Germany should leave Afghanistan as quickly as possible," Diederich adds.

German voters may not be happy with the coalition they now have, and they may have misgivings about the future. But many still take voting seriously.

"I think if you're not interested in voting you have yourself to blame, if we end up with some terrible government," another German voter comments, "It's the only way to make our influence felt."

German voters will have the final say on who sits in parliament and which parties form a coalition to lead the next government.

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