Compared to previous votes in 2017 and 2013, “a significant change in German politics and policy is more likely after the election,” according to Pepijn Bergsen, a research fellow who oversees the country for the international think tank Chatham House.
Merkel’s race to succeed is fierce, and the final winner may not be known until days or even weeks after the election ends.
But for the first time in a generation, Germans will decide what Germany will look like after Merkel. Whoever they turn to will face a list of challenges both at home and abroad.
Where is Merkel?
During his tenure, he has served with five Prime Ministers of Britain, four French Presidents, seven Italian Prime Ministers and four US Commanders-in-Chiefs. Her period in power has been remarkably eventful, and Merkel’s unshakable presence throughout has earned her an international reputation for stability and level-headedness.
“It did a great job politically for him in Germany and on the world stage,” Bergson told Granthshala. “Germany has done very well in the last 15 years from an economic point of view … (and) Germany did not do as badly during the financial crisis, but there is a realization that it will not last.”
The European refugee crisis in the mid-2010s proved a major challenge for Merkel’s party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), and has also protested its close ties with China.
But after a pandemic that saw Germany outperform many of its neighbours, analysts and polls suggest that Merkel will step down with respect to most Germans.
“She is viewed very positively in Germany, because she is associated with sustainability – people know what they are getting,” said Ben Schreier from the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) Berlin-based Europe office.
Who is in the race to take his place?
German politics is dominated by two parties – the centre-right CDU and the left-leaning Social Democratic Party, or SPD – which have ruled together in coalition for the past eight years.
But the popularity of other parties has grown over the past decade as the CDU and SPD have lost ground. This election is particularly close; The CDU and SPD both have voting advantages, and the Green Party has also emerged as a serious contender.
Merkel’s successor at the helm of the CDU is 60-year-old Armin Lachet, a longtime ally of the chancellor and the party’s deputy leader since 2012. A devout Catholic whose father was once a coal mining engineer, was elected as the party. candidate after a hard fight for the leadership.
Laschet has a background in law and journalism, and was elected to the German Bundestag in 1994.
Merkel has expressed her support for Lachette, but despite her efforts to persuade the Germans to stay with the CDU, voting suggests her replacement as the party’s leader struggles to win over the Germans.
His most prominent rival is the SPD’s Olaf Scholz, who has taken a surprising lead in polls in recent weeks, leading him in Sunday’s vote.
Like Laszt, Scholz has a long history as a political player in Germany. He has been Merkel’s finance minister and chancellor since 2018, arguably placing him in a better position to run as her natural successor than his party’s candidate.
But elections still suggest a higher number of voters late in the campaign, adding to the unpredictability of the vote.
Green Party leader Annalena Beerbock caused a brief sensation in German politics when she swept the polls early in the campaign, leaving voters to wonder if she could become the country’s first Green chancellor.
A 40-year-old former professional trampolineist, Berbock stands out in the field of mostly male political leaders. And though her star is somewhat eroded, she has capitalized on voters’ climate concerns to establish her group as a third party in the race.
The far-right AFD remains a stubborn presence on the political scene, with the liberal Free Democratic Party in fourth place.
How does voting work?
German elections for the Bundestag are run on a system of proportional representation, meaning that each party’s vote share is directly related to how many seats in parliament.
This principle makes it almost impossible for a party to run a government alone; Instead coalitions must be formed after a vote, and these often consist of more than two groups.
Many Germans have already voted; The pandemic has increased the amount of postal voting that takes place before polling day.
Regardless of how they choose to vote, Germans are asked to choose their local legislator, and their preferred overall party. Once the results are in, a race will begin to hold together enough seats to rule – meaning smaller parties can become kingmakers.
“Whoever wins on paper on Sunday night probably can’t be sure that he’ll actually lead the government, because there’s going to be a lot of permutations,” Schreier explained, “we can’t know until November.” If we’re lucky.”
What are the issues?
All the candidates are caught in a Merkel-sized puzzle, as they attempt to define their own agenda while allaying German fears over a change in leadership.
A push by Merkel has placed environmental issues at the center of German politics, and almost all parties have asserted their green credentials.
In this campaign the Green Party has called for a 70% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2030, compared to the current government’s target of 55% reductions.
But the campaign is mostly defined by domestic affairs; Minimum wage increases and pension reform are central to Scholz’s campaign, and he re-emphasized those plans in the debate.
Will a Merkel-less Germany still be able to lead the world stage?
The global results of Sunday’s vote are clear; Merkel’s longevity made her the de facto leader of Europe, and it is unclear whether her successor will play the same role.
“Germany faces some significant foreign policy challenges that the new government has to take on,” Schreier said.
“The question is, who will replace (Merkel), and will that person have the same charisma and ability that he did?” she added. “Allies are skeptical, and the Germans are also quite cautious in this regard.”
An important part of Merkel’s role was her determination to maintain European cohesion and paper on the rift between EU member states.
“Macron will try to seize Merkel’s position in Europe,” Bergson predicted, indicating a possible shift in the balance of power toward Germany’s western neighbor France. “The German position will not necessarily change, but whoever comes to power now will have to deal with a broad (domestic) coalition, so it will be a bit difficult for them to lead on the international stage.”
Looking ahead, Germany’s new leader must also balance the country’s ties with the United States and China, two nations with which Merkel attempted to maintain close ties.
And it is important to keep the United Kingdom close after leaving the European Union. “The UK remains an important partner strategically, and Germany knows that if the UK does not join the European continent, you will divide the Europeans,” Schreier said.
“(Germany) is an internationally respected country – undoubtedly so is it,” he said. “The question is: does this now enable Germany to face the international storms that are certainly coming?”
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