On Sunday, Germans will go to the polls to vote in an uncertain federal election, but their long-serving leader will not be in the running for the first time in over two decades.
Since taking office in 2005, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been a symbol of stability in Europe; the chemist-turned-political stalwart has weathered populism, a financial crisis, a pandemic, and Brexit to leave a remarkable record as the world’s most successful female leader.
Merkel, 67, has announced that she will stand down once the results of Sunday’s election are known, casting a pall over the weekend’s poll.
The battle to succeed Merkel is tight, and the winner may not be known for days, if not weeks, after the votes close.
But, for the first time in a generation, Germans will have the opportunity to shape the post-Merkel Germany. Regardless matter who they turn to, they will confront a slew of problems at home and abroad.
Merkel Set To Retire
Merkel’s exit from global politics has been a long time coming; she initially declared in 2018 that she would not seek re-election at the conclusion of her term, following a series of electoral losses in her own country.
She has dealt with five British prime ministers, four French presidents, seven Italian prime ministers, and four American commanders-in-chief throughout her time in office. Merkel’s tenure as chancellor has been unusually eventful, and her unflappable presence has won her a worldwide reputation for steadiness and coolness.
Bergsen told news outlets, “That worked extremely well politically for her in Germany and on the international stage.” “From an economic standpoint, Germany has done quite well over the previous 15 years… (and) Germany did not do particularly poorly during the financial crisis, but the awareness has set in that this will not endure.”
Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) faced a severe test during the European immigration crisis in the mid-2010s, and she has also faced criticism for her strong ties with China.
However, analysts and polling show Merkel will leave office with the respect of the majority of Germans after a period in which Germany fared better than many of its neighbors.
“She’s viewed favourably in Germany because she’s linked with stability — people know what they’re getting,” said Ben Schreer of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) Europe office in Berlin.
What Does The Future Look Like?
For the past eight years, German politics has been controlled by two parties: the center-right Christian Democrats (CDU) and the left-leaning Social Democratic Party (SPD).
However, although the CDU and SPD have lost popularity over the last decade, other parties have risen in popularity. The CDU and SPD both enjoy polling advantages in this election, while the Green Party has emerged as a genuine competitor.
Armin Laschet, 60, a long-time supporter of Merkel and the party’s deputy leader since 2012, is Merkel’s successor at the leadership of the CDU. He was chosen as the party’s candidate following a tumultuous leadership struggle. He is a devout Catholic whose father was formerly a coal mining engineer.
Laschet has a legal and journalistic background and was elected to the German Bundestag in 1994.
Merkel has expressed her support for Laschet, but polling shows that, despite Merkel’s attempts to encourage Germans to stay with the CDU, her replacement as the party’s head has struggled to gain support.
His main opponent is SPD’s Olaf Scholz, who has acquired a surprising lead in recent surveys, making him the slight favorite ahead into Sunday’s election.
Scholz, like Laschet, had a lengthy and illustrious political career in Germany. He has been Merkel’s finance minister and vice chancellor since 2018, putting him in a stronger position than her own party’s nominee to run as her inevitable successor.
Scholz has risen in prominence as he managed Germany’s economic response to the epidemic, and he sailed through the final electoral barrier with a confident performance in the final televised discussion.
However, surveys show a large number of undecided voters late in the campaign, enhancing the vote’s volatility.
Annalena Baerbock, the head of the Green Party, created a stir in German politics early in the campaign when she soared in the polls, causing many to speculate if she may become the country’s first ever Green chancellor.
In a field of primarily male political leaders, Baerbock, a 40-year-old former professional trampolinist, stands out. And, despite the fact that her popularity has waned in the final stretch, she has used voters’ worries about the environment to create her party as the third party in the campaign.
The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) is still a force on the political landscape, battling it out for fourth place with the liberal Free Democratic Party.