Germany election LIVE: 'Every vote counts!' Germans urged to head to polls – Merkel exit

According to the latest polls, the German election race is very close between CDU leader Armin Laschet and SPD leader Olaf Scholz. Not far behind them, the Greens leader Annalena Baerbock will most likely be part of any post-election coalition parties will agree to in the months to come. Leading parties will sound each other out before embarking on more formal coalition negotiations that could take months, leaving Mrs Merkel, 67, in charge in a caretaker role.

Campaigning in his home constituency of Aachen alongside Merkel, Laschet said on Saturday that a leftist alliance led by the SPD with the Greens and the hard-left Linke party would destabilise Europe.

Mr Laschet, 60, said: “They want to pull us out of NATO, they don’t want this alliance, they want another republic.

“I don’t want the Linke to be in the next government.”

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

Mr Scholz, 63, has not ruled out a leftist alliance with The Left but said NATO membership was a red line for the SPD.

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.

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