ANGELA MERKEL is in a fight to clinch a new term for her ruling coalition in Sunday’s national election, with polls showing her center-right alliance on a knife-edge as her junior partner’s support slumps.
Merkel and her conservative Christian Democratic Union appear likely to fend off a challenge from center-left rival Peer Steinbrueck and emerge as the biggest party in the lower house of Parliament, whose members choose the chancellor — making her the strong favorite to win a third term.
But no single party has won an absolute majority in Germany in more than 50 years. And surveys show Merkel’s coalition partner, the pro-business Free Democratic Party, has fallen from the nearly 15 percent support it won in 2009 to about the 5 percent level needed to keep any seats in Parliament.
Final results are due within hours of polls closing.
Much may depend on the turnout among the nearly 62 million voters — about 70 percent in the 2009 ballot. In the days before the voting, prominent figures from all major parties have urged supporters to vote, with the projected outcome too close to take any chances.
Given Merkel’s popularity — polls show her with approval ratings of up to 70 percent — and the economic success enjoyed during what she calls “the most successful government since reunification” 23 years ago, it might seem surprising that the electoral outcome appears so cloudy.
The opposition’s campaign has been marred by problems that ranged from criticism of Steinbrueck’s high earnings on the lecture circuit to a much-mocked suggestion by his Green Party allies that canteens should introduce a meat-free “veggie day.”
And Merkel has attacked plans by the Social Democrats and Greens to increase income tax for top earners, which she says would hurt the economy.
Merkel has brushed aside concerns that a tight finish would weaken her position as Europe’s strongest politician, noting that “majorities in Germany are very frequently narrow.”
“If citizens give us a mandate to continue with the current coalition … a majority, however big it is, we will take responsibility for governing together,” she told ARD television.