Voting has ended in Germany’s national parliamentary elections with exit polling indicating a tight contest between outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right Christian Democratic Union and the center-left Social Democrats.
State Governor Armin Laschet of the Christian Democratic Union and outgoing Finance Minister and Vice Chancellor Olaf Scholz of the Social Democrats are vying to become the leader of Europe’s biggest national economy as Merkel steps down after 16 years as chancellor.
The exit polling for ARD public broadcaster shows both parties with 25% support, while a second exit poll by ZDF public television put the Social Democrats ahead by a 26%-24% margin. Both surveys had the environmentalist Greens party with its leader, Annalena Baerbock, third with about 15% support.
The newly elected lawmakers will likely have to form a coalition government, meaning it may take some weeks before Merkel’s replacement is determined. No party is expected to come close to a majority, with polling showing all the parties with less than 30% support.
Merkel has been reluctant to throw her support behind any of the leaders seeking to replace her, but on Saturday attended a rally for Laschet. She will remain in office on a caretaker basis until her successor is chosen.
As he voted in Potsdam, just outside Berlin, Scholz said he hopes voters "will make possible ... a very strong result for the Social Democrats, and that citizens will give me the mandate to become the next chancellor of Germany."
In Aachen, on Germany's western border, Laschet said the election "will decide on Germany's direction in the coming years, and so it will come down to every vote."
The leading contenders for chancellor are offering sharply divergent views on major policy issues.
Laschet says there should be no tax increases as Germany recovers from the coronavirus pandemic. Scholz and Baerbock are calling for taxes to be raised on the richest Germans, and back an increase in the minimum wage for workers.
Germany's leading parties also express differing views for controlling the effects of climate change.
Laschet’s Christian Democratic Union is pinning its hopes on technological solutions and a market-driven approach, while the Greens want to increase prices on carbon emissions and end the use of coal earlier than planned. Scholz has cited the need to protect jobs as Germany transitions to greener energy.
Some material in this report came from the Associated Press.