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Germany’s Scholz casts his vote amid tight leadership race

Social Democrat chancellor candidate Olaf Scholz cast his ballot in his constituency of Potsdam near Berlin on Sunday, urging voters to deliver a “strong result” for his party.

In a national election that is too close to call, the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) mounting a strong challenge to retiring Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives.

Merkel has been in power since 2005 but plans to step down after the election, making the vote an era-changing event to set the future course of Europe’s largest economy.

A fractured electorate means that after the election, leading parties will sound each other out before embarking on more formal coalition negotiations that could take months, leaving Merkel, 67, in charge in a caretaker role.

Scholz, 63, the finance minister in Merkel’s right-left coalition who won all three televised debates between the leading candidates.

He has not ruled out a leftist alliance with The Left but said NATO membership was a red line for the SPD.

Scholz told supporters that he was still hoping the SPD and Greens would secure a majority to rule alone without a third partner.

After a domestic-focused election campaign, Berlin’s allies in Europe and beyond may have to wait for months before they can see whether the new German government is ready to engage on foreign issues to the extent they would like.

The splintered political landscape means a three-way coalition is likely. Final opinion polls gave the Social Democrats a narrow lead, but the conservatives have reduced the gap in recent days and many voters were still undecided.

The most likely coalition scenarios see either the SPD or the conservative CDU/CSU bloc – whoever comes first – forming an alliance with the Greens and the liberal Free Democrats (FDP).

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