Germany will vote Sunday to replace Chancellor Angela Merkel and likely elect a coalition government as she is set to retire after 16 years at the helm of the country. File Photo by Ronald Wittek/EPA-EFE
Sept. 26 (UPI) -- Germans headed to the polls Sunday in an election that will see a new leader take the helm of the country as Chancellor Angele Merkel departs after 16 years in power.
Among the top candidates looking to replace Merkel are Olaf Scholz of the Social Democratic Party, Armin Laschet of the ruling Christian Democratic Union and Christian Social Union alliance and Annalena Baerbock of the Green Party as voters have centered climate change as a primary issue.
As Germans take to the polls they are asked to select a local lawmaker and their overall preferred party with each party's vote share directly relating to the seats they receive in parliament.
Analysts have projected that the incoming government will likely be a coalition as no single party is expected to earn enough seats to govern on its own.
"Party leadership will assess the official results in meetings on Monday morning, formally offering exploratory talks to potential coalition partners," Carsten Nickel, deputy director of research at Teneo Intelligence, said in a note. "These talks, as well as subsequent coalition negotiations, might take several weeks, given the likely need to forge an untested three-way coalition."
Elections officials reported a turnout of 36.5% at midday, down slightly from the total at the halfway mark in the last federal elections four years ago, but experts noted that mail-in ballots are not included in the total as officials predicted a record number of postal votes.
Early polls showed the SDP likely to take a slim majority of votes, with a level of trust placed behind the 63-year-old Scholz who has served as finance minister and vice chancellor in the current government.
After casting his vote Sunday, Scholz said he hoped voters will give him "the mandate to become the next chancellor."
Laschet's campaign has been marred by controversy. He was seen laughing during a visit to a German town struck by devastating flooding earlier this year and Sunday his ballot was visible as he cast his vote in violation of German elections law that states voters should "fold the ballot paper in such a way that it is not possible to see how he or she has voted and place it in the ballot box."
Baerbock's Green Party has seen a surge in approval, gaining popularity with German voters aged 18-29, and on Sunday she tweeted that "if you want a climate government, you should choose Green today."
"Millions of young people live in our country and can't vote," she said in an appeal to older voters on Thursday. "if we keep heading the same way, our children won't be able to have the same good life."