Scholz leads by a whisker in last hours before German election

German election updates

Germany’s political leaders are making their final pitches to voters ahead of national elections on Sunday, with the latest polls suggesting the race to succeed Angela Merkel, the country’s long-serving chancellor, is tightening.

All three top candidates — Armin Laschet of the CDU/CSU, Olaf Scholz of the Social Democrats and the Greens’ Annalena Baerbock — are holding their final rallies of the campaign on Friday and Saturday in a bid to galvanise their core supporters and sway the legions of voters who are still undecided.

Latest polls suggest that Scholz’s SPD is on course to win the most votes, although its lead has shrunk in recent days. A Forsa poll for broadcaster RTL on Friday put the SPD on 25 per cent, the CDU/CSU on 22 per cent, the Greens on 17 per cent and liberal Free Democrats on 12 per cent.

Merkel’s departure from power after 16 years as chancellor has blown this year’s election wide open. For the first time in Germany’s postwar history, an incumbent chancellor is not running for re-election, and the campaign has been much more unpredictable and volatile as a result.

The CDU/CSU, SPD and Greens have all led in the polls at certain points over the past few months and experienced 10-point swings in their poll ratings.

Scholz, the German finance minister and deputy chancellor, has by far the highest personal approval ratings of all the chancellor candidates. According to one recent poll, 47 per cent of voters want to see him succeed Merkel, while 20 per cent favour Laschet and 16 per cent Baerbock.

Analysts suggest the most likely outcome of the election is a “traffic-light” coalition — named after the parties’ signature colours — between the SDP, Greens and FDP. However, a “Jamaica” alliance — so-called because the colours of the parties match those of the Jamaican flag — between the CDU/CSU, Greens and FDP is also a possibility. A further potential option is a “red-red-green” coalition between the SPD, Greens and hard-left Die Linke.

The final TV debate between the candidates on Thursday night was broader than the previous three and included the leaders of the far-right Alternative for Germany, Die Linke and the FDP as well as the frontrunners. Christian Lindner, leader of the FDP, made clear his preference for a Jamaica alliance.

SPD candidate Olaf Scholz at a campaign event on Friday as parties made their final pitches to voters © Guido Kirchner/dpa
Annalena Baerbock
Green candidate Annalena Baerbock with supporters at a rally on Friday © Federico Gambarini/dpa

“The overlap in terms of policy is greatest with Jamaica,” he said, adding the FDP wanted a “coalition of the centre”, without “green debts and red tax increases”.

Meanwhile Laschet used the debate to warn against the dangers of a red-red-green alliance — a theme he has pursued doggedly throughout the campaign. “We have to be so strong as CDU/CSU that this coalition is not possible,” he said.

At a campaign event in Potsdam on Thursday evening, Baerbock argued that her party was the only serious option for change, saying the CDU/CSU and SPD, which have governed together in a “grand coalition” for the past eight years, had done little to drive climate policy forward.

“We are ready to lead the way on climate neutrality, in an alliance between Europe and the US,” she said.

Though there were plenty of diehard Greens in the crowd, many people were undecided. Some expressed admiration for the Greens’ rhetoric of change but also misgivings about Baerbock’s lack of government experience.

Stephan Berger, who attended the rally with his young daughter, said he was finding it harder to make a decision than in any previous election.

“On the one hand you have the opportunity for a new start. On the other, you have serious government experience,” he said, in a reference to Scholz, the finance minister who also previously served for seven years as mayor of Hamburg, and Laschet, who is prime minister of the industrial state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

“She speaks very well,” he said, referring to Baerbock. “But the question is: can she really be chancellor? Can she sit at the table with the leader of China? Does she have the whole international package?”

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