Hotly contested German elections usher in post-Merkel era | Business and finance

BERLIN (AP) – German voters choose a new parliament in an election that will determine who will succeed Chancellor Angela Merkel after 16 years as head of Europe’s largest economy.

Polls indicate a very close race on Sunday between Merkel’s center-right Union bloc, with state governor Armin Laschet running for chancellor, and the center-left Social Democrats, for whom the minister outgoing Finance Minister and Vice-Chancellor Olaf Scholz is seeking the top post.

Recent polls show that the Social Democrats are slightly ahead. Green environmentalists, along with candidate Annalena Baerbock, are making their first round in the chancellery, and polls say they are several points away from third place. The Social Democrats were boosted by the relative popularity of Scholz after a long electoral crisis. Baerbock suffered from early blunders and Laschet, the governor of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, struggled to motivate his party’s traditional base.

About 60.4 million people in the nation of 83 million are eligible the new Bundestag, or lower house of parliament, which will elect the next head of government.

No party should come close to an absolute majority. Polls show support for all below 30%.

Such a result could mean that many ruling coalitions are mathematically possible, and trigger weeks or months of bargaining to form a new government. Until she is in place, Merkel will remain in office on an interim basis.

Merkel received praise for direction Germany through several major crises. The new chancellor will have to deal with the recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, which Germany has so far resisted relatively well thanks to sweeping bailout programs that have taken on new debt.

Laschet insists there should be no tax increases as Germany pulls out of the pandemic. Scholz and Baerbock are in favor of tax increases for the wealthiest Germans, and also support an increase in the minimum wage.

Scholz on Friday touted the outgoing government’s success in preserving jobs during the pandemic, saying that “we are succeeding in avoiding the major economic and social crisis that would have otherwise hit us.”

“We will achieve new growth if we do the right thing now in economic policy,” Laschet said at a rally on Saturday in his hometown of Aachen. “If we do it wrong now, with ideological experiments, everything we have built in 16 years will be wasted. “

Merkel, making the latest of a handful of appearances in this campaign, hailed Laschet as someone who “builds bridges, takes people with him”.

The main German parties have significant differences in their proposals for tackling climate change. The Laschet Union bloc is pinning its hopes on technological solutions and a market-oriented approach, while the Greens want to raise carbon prices and end the use of coal sooner than expected. Scholz stressed the need to protect jobs as Germany shifts to greener energy.

Foreign policy did not feature much in the campaign, although the Greens favor a tougher stance on China and Russia.

As they struggled in the polls, Laschet and other Union leaders warned that Scholz and the Greens would form a coalition with the Opposition Party, which opposes NATO military deployments and from Germany abroad. It is debatable whether such a partnership is realistic, given foreign policy and other differences between the parties, but this line of attack can help form the conservative base.

Scholz has said he would like a bipartisan coalition with the Greens, but that sounds very optimistic. In the absence of a majority for that, his first choice would likely be an alliance with the Greens and pro-business Free Democrats.

A coalition with these two parties is also Laschet’s most likely path to power. The Greens are in favor of an alliance with the Social Democrats, while the Free Democrats prefer an alliance with the Union.

The result could also allow a repeat of the outgoing “grand coalition” of the main traditional parties, the Union and the Social Democrats, under Scholz or Laschet.

The far-right Alternative for Germany party is a little lower than the 12.6% it won to enter parliament in 2017, but will not be in any new government this time either. All the other parties say they will not work with it.

The Bundestag has at least 598 seats, but Germany’s complex electoral system means it can be considerably larger. The outgoing parliament had a record 709 seats and the new one is expected to be even larger.

The number of people voting by mail ballot is expected to be higher than the 28.6% who did so four years ago. Also on Sunday, voters in Berlin and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania in northeastern Germany – the two states currently ruled by Social Democrats – elect new state legislatures.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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