German election 2017: polls open amid fears over surge of far-right AfD

Philip Oltermann
Voting in Berlin on Sunday. Photograph: Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters

Polls have opened in Germany for an election that could serve a bittersweet victory for incumbent chancellor Angela Merkel.

While Merkel is widely expected to be reelected as chancellor for a fourth term, Sunday’s vote is likely to see a far-right party enter parliament for the first time in over six decades.

Five out of the last five polls published before the vote have put Alternative für Deutschland in third place on 10 to 13%, behind Merkel’s CDU and the SPD.

Though setting her on course to match her mentor Helmut Kohl’s record as the longest-serving chancellor in German postwar history, this year’s campaign has seen the 63-year-old met with unprecedented levels of vitriol, especially in the eastern regions of the country.

At the chancellor’s last large rally, on Munich’s Marienplatz square on Friday, tabloid Bild noted that the chancellor looked “small and alone” on the large stage while a sizeable crowd of protesters whistled and jeered throughout her speech on digitisation, refugees and policing.

Merkel spent Saturday appearing at smaller events within her own constituency in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, while her main challenger Martin Schulz, of the Social Democratic Party, held the last event of his campaign in front of around 4,000 people on the Katschhof square in Aachen, near his hometown of Würselen.

This year’s election is also likely to see the comeback of the pro-business Free Democratic Party, a potential coalition partner in Merkel’s next cabinet, who dropped below the 5% threshold for parliamentary seats in 2013.

After the far-right’s late surge in the polls, leading politicians have been urging the public to come out to vote. “Those who don’t vote let others decide the future of the country”, president Frank-Walter Steinmeier wrote in an article for Bild am Sonntag. “Perhaps it has never been so noticeable that elections are also about the future and democracy of Europe”.

Around 61.5 million German citizens are eligible to vote this year. Four years ago, 29% of registered voters did not cast a ballot.

First exit polls will be published upon closure of voting booths at 6pm CET, with a first projected vote expected soon after.

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