German election: Angela Merkel's party 'hurt' as exit polls show leadership rivals are closely tied in vote to decide next chancellor

26 September 2021, 13:37 | Updated: 27 September 2021, 04:09

Exit polls in Germany suggest the two main rivals are closely tied in an election that will determine who will succeed Angela Merkel.

No single party has ever won a total majority in the country's Bundestag (lower house of parliament), meaning politicians will likely be plunged into negotiations in the coming days.

One exit poll shows Mrs Merkel's CDU/CSU bloc and the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) neck-and-neck with about 25% of the vote.

It is the CDU/CSU bloc's weakest result in a post-war federal election - with the party's general secretary conceding the early exit polls "hurt".

One poll puts the SPD slightly ahead of its rival on 26% - prompting the party's general secretary to claim it has a mandate to form a ruling coalition.

The infratest poll for the broadcaster ARD suggested the Greens could be on track to win as much as 15% and the far-right party AfD could garner 11%.

The predictions signal that Germany could have its first national government made up of three parties.

In the running to become the next chancellor is CDU/CSU bloc's Armin Laschet and outgoing finance minister Olaf Scholz for the Social Democrats.

The environmentalist Greens, with candidate Annalena Baerbock, are also making their first run for the chancellery.

But Germany could face months of talks to form a coalition government after the election - with all three parties expected to need to join forces to clear the 50% seat threshold in the Bundestag.

It would mean Mrs Merkel does not relinquish power immediately and is required to stay on in a caretaker role for months.

Voting closed at 5pm UK time in a bitterly fought election to replace Mrs Merkel after 16 years in power.

About 60.4 million people in the nation of 83 million were eligible to elect the new Bundestag, which will choose the next head of government.

Long-serving leader Mrs Merkel has won praise for steering Germany through several major crises, including the financial crash and the coronavirus pandemic.

The new chancellor will have to lead the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, which Germany so far has weathered relatively well thanks to large rescue programmes that have fuelled fresh debt.

Mr Laschet vowed his party would do "everything we can" to form a new government adding that "we can't be satisfied with the result" predicted in the exit polls.

The result "puts Germany, the Union, all democratic parties before big challenges", Mr Laschet said.

Speaking after the exit polls were revealed, he said: "We will do everything we can to form a government under the Union's leadership, because Germany now needs a coalition for the future that modernizes our country.

"It will probably be the first time that we will have a government with three partners."

CDU general secretary, Paul Ziemiak, acknowledged the party had seen "bitter losses" compared with the previous election which saw it gain 32.9% of the vote four years ago.

He suggested it would be a "long election evening" but hinted at the possibility of working alongside the Greens and Free Democrats.

Meanwhile, Social Democrat counterpart, Lars Klingbeil, declared his party "is back" having previously secured just 20.5% in 2017.

Candidate Mr Scholz proclaimed the projected result a "great success".

"Now we will wait for the final election result, but then we will get to work," he told supporters.

Despite what could be their strongest showing ever, Green party general secretary, Michael Kellner, revealed his disappointment at the anticipated results.

"We gained significantly, but I find it difficult to really enjoy it because expectations were clearly higher," he said.

However, the party has been buoyed by projections that Berlin could get its first Green mayor.

The environmentalist group is predicted to claim a 23.5% share - taking the title from the Social Democrats, who have held the post there for two decades.