German federal elections 2021: What you need to know about race for chancellor

WION Web Team
New DelhiEdited By: Manas JoshiUpdated: Sep 26, 2021, 09:04 PM IST

Race to become next Chancellor of Germany is very close. In photo above (L-R) Olaf Scholz, Armin Laschet, Annalena Baerbock Photograph:(AFP)

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Voting for German elections 2021 takes place to decide the next chancellor of the country. This will mark the end of current Chancellor Angela Merkel's 16-year role at the top of the German political office. The race for the new chancellor seemed fairly straightforward earlier, but has heated up now. It is expected that there will be a photo finish and coalition talks

As Chancellor Angela Merkel prepares to step down from the political stage and Germans vote in federal (Bundestag) elections, all bets appear to be off as to who will be the next chancellor.

The contest, which once seemed clear, now appears to be close. So much so that Merkel, who had initially preferred to stay away from the campaign fray, had to enter the field to shore up ratings for her would-be successor Armin Laschet. This time the Bundestag is expected to expand more than its minimum size of 598 seats.

Here's a look at who is in the race to be next chancellor of Germany

Armin Laschet (Party: CDU/CSU)

Armin Laschet

Armin Laschet (60) enjoys support from Angela Merkel to be the next chancellor of Germany. He is Merkel's party colleague within Christian Democratic Union (CDU/CSU). He is Minister-President of Germany's North Rhine-Westphalia region.

Laschet's approval ratings were high in months leading to German election but series of blunders saw his popularity wane. These included getting caught on camera laughing in the background during a tribute to the victims of the recent devastating floods in Germany.

Merkel herself had to enter the campaign fray to shore-up support for her favoured candidate.

Olaf Scholz (Party: SPD)

Olaf Scholz

Olaf Scholz (63) is the current vice-chacellor and finance minister of Germany. He belongs to Social Democratic Party (German: Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands or SPD).

His approval ratings were low at the start of the race but rose as he avoided making embarrassing mistakes like Laschet.

Annalena Baerbock (Green Party)

Annalena Baerbock

Annalena Baerbock is the chancellor candidate from Green Party. At one point, Baerbock even took lead as the most favourite candidate in opinion polls.

But after a series of missteps by Baerbock, including a plagiarism scandal, the Greens are now polling well behind the two leading parties on around 17 per cent.

While the chancellery may be out of reach for the party, it will likely have a role in Germany's next government.

How do German elections work?

German elections

Voters do not directly elect the chancellor. Elected members of the parliament decide who the chancellor will be from among them.

Each German voter has two votes. First vote decides who will represent a region in the parliament. Second vote elects the party and decides the makeup of the parliament. The party with the most votes gets to send more number of candidates to the parliament.

For example, if a party scores three direct seats through the first vote but is eligible for 10 seats overall through the second vote, seven more names on the party's candidate list (published before the elections) are also given seats. The candidate list published before the elections has candidates for each of the 16 states. Those higher on the list have better chance of securing a parliament seat.

A complication arises when the direct and party votes are out of balance because voters "split" their ballot. This happens when a voter votes for a candidate from a particular party but prefers a different party in his or her second vote.

This time, the Bundestag is expected to expand more than its minimum size of 598 seats as more voters are expected to split their votes.

This year, there are 47 political parties taking part in the elections.

Opinion polls show the race for the chancellery is headed for a photo finish, with Merkel's CDU-CSU conservative alliance on around 23 per cent, just behind the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) at 25 per cent -- well within the margin of error.

Who can vote?

Individuals above 18 years of age, having German citizenship and having lived in the country for an uninterrupted period of at least three months are eligible to vote. Mail-in vote is allowed for Germans living abroad. 

People who hold German passports but haven't lived in Germany for more than 25 years cannot vote.

As per German government's statistics, 60.4 million Germans are eligible to vote this time. There are 2.8 million first time voters. These are the voters who do not remember any chancellor other than Angela Merkel.

Voter participation four years ago stood at 76.2 percent, up nearly five points from 2013 and higher than in many other Western democracies.

This year, 33 per cent of the candidates for the Bundestag, which ultimately elects the chancellor, are female -- a post-war record.

When will the result be known?

After voting concludes at 1600 GMT (9:30 pm IST) on September 26, counting of votes will begin. The counting will continue well into the night.

Provisional results are expected on the morning of September 27. But official results won't be published until several weeks later. 

How did things stand after 2017 elections?

Here is where things stood after the 2017 election:

Christian Democratic Union (CDU) / Christian Social Union (CSU): 32.9 percent - 246 seats

Social Democratic Party (SPD): 20.5 percent - 153 seats

Alternative for Germany (AfD): 12.6 percent - 94 seats

Free Democrats (FDP): 10.7 percent - 80 seats

Die Linke: 9.2 percent - 69 seats

Greens: 8.9 percent - 67 seats

(With inputs from agencies)