Europe

Germany election: Rival parties in last push for votes

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Media captionStephen Evans explains how the Bundestag election works

Germany's rival parties have concluded their final day of campaigning ahead of Sunday's parliamentary elections.

Polls suggest Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats will win the biggest share of the vote.

But her current coalition partners, the Free Democrats, may not pass the 5% threshold for winning seats in parliament.

If so, Mrs Merkel may have to consider a coalition with her main rival Peer Steinbrueck's Social Democrats.

On Saturday, Mrs Merkel held a large rally in Stralsund and Mr Steinbrueck appeared at an event in Frankfurt.

Polling station are due to open at 08:00 local time (06:00 GMT) and close at 18:00.

Conservatives rally

Addressing a Christian Democratic Union (CDU) rally in Hanover on Friday, Mrs Merkel asked for votes to continue with her government's policies into 2017.

Image caption Mrs Merkel is reckoned to be the most powerful woman in the world

"Please vote for the CDU on Sunday," she said, "so that we can continue our solid policy for you, for your children, for your families and friends."

"So that in four years we are able to say that people in 2017 are doing better than they did in 2013; more people have jobs; the euro is more stable, Europe is more stable and we have less debt. This is my goal, ladies and gentlemen, and therefore I ask you for your support."

SDP war-cry

Peer Steinbrueck - whose opposition SPD party is trying to deny Mrs Merkel a third term - rallied his supporters in the town of Kassel on Thursday. Mr Steinbrueck has sharpened his attacks on his rival, accusing her of skirting the country's big challenges.

Mr Steinbrueck touched on the crisis in Syria, saying he did not want German involvement in any military action. But he said peacekeeping could not be ruled out.

"Germany will have to, within its alliances and under the conditions of a mandate, take part in peacekeeping and peace securing measures," he said.

The Green Party - who may play some part in an eventual governing coalition - held a rally in Berlin. The party's parliamentary co-chair, Juergen Trittin, criticised Mrs Merkel's government.

"Two parties went into the election campaign saying: 'We will not increase taxes.' Then they started their term with a 3% VAT increase. Then they ended it with the car trade-in rebate scheme that was environmental, industrial and transport policy madness," he said.

Mrs Merkel's current coalition partners, the Free Democrats, rallied for votes in Stuttgart.

The Free Democrats (FDP), whose best-known member is Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, has seen its fortunes decline sharply since the last election in 2009, when it won nearly 15% of the vote.

Image caption The Green Party's main candidate is Juergen Trittin

Analysts say the party, traditionally more liberal than the CDU/CSU, has struggled to stand out from its more powerful coalition partner on economic policy.

If the Free Democrats (FDP) do badly, as expected, the Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) may find themselves looking to other small parties to form a broader, more fragile coalition.

Scenarios

According to an average of opinion polls tweeted by the ā€¸London-based @electionista monitoring site, the CDU/CSU will get 38.6% of the vote to 25.8% for the SPD and 6.4% for the FDP.

Some analysts also see the possibility of a government led by Mrs Merkel which includes the Social Democrats (SPD), whose leader served as finance minister under Mrs Merkel in a previous grand coalition.

Under another scenario, a new party largely formed from disaffected CDU members could get enough votes to be regarded as a different coalition partner. Alternative fuer Deutschland (AfD), as it is known, is avowedly anti-euro and could prove a difficult partner.

In a letter sent to five million households, Mrs Merkel, in power since 2005, promised voters they would be in safe hands if she stayed on as chancellor.

Image caption Peer Steinbrueck has worked with Mrs Merkel in government before

"We have achieved a lot together," she wrote. "I also want the next four years to be good."

On Berlin's famous Alexanderplatz Square on Thursday evening, Mr Steinbrueck likened Mrs Merkel to a timid driver steering the country around in circles.

"She likes to drive around roundabouts," he said. "That way you don't hit anything... You drive without accidents.

"But the moment you set a direction, the moment you don't just administer this country but also decide its political direction, you also cause offence, you provoke. At least with me you know what you get, in contrast to the last four years."

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Media captionGerman coalitions explained in cake

Dismissing opinion polls, he said: "It's not the pollsters, nor the wishful thinking of politicians... but you voters who decide."

The election is one of the most important in years because of Germany's dominant role in the eurozone.

With the biggest population of any EU state, it enjoys a GDP that far outstrips the economies of its partners and is crucial to decisions on tackling the eurozone's debt crisis.