If this election is anything like the last three, Germans will vote, and Angela Merkel will become chancellor. Even so, the race is still not over, and many exciting questions remain unanswered, writes DW's Dagmar Engel.
The German election has still not been decided because the polling stations do not close until September 24, 6:00 p.m. Central European Summer Time. So it is still going on — all of Saturday evening, all of Sunday. Everything we know right now is based on preliminary polls. Just a reminder: In the past year, Europeans went to bed confident about fairly reliable poll predictions and then woke up to Brexit and Donald Trump.
It probably won't be such a nightmare this time. The expected margin of difference between Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Social Democrats (SPD) is too wide to envision a new German chancellor. Financial markets, in their inimitable arrogance, have already decided that everything will stay the same, meaning stable. It makes stock traders happy, and they don't care about anything else — at least when it comes to business.
Will Germany get a three-party coalition?
But the stock market may be mistaken. Once again, no party will be able to govern alone. And no matter how powerful Angela Merkel is, she has often had to give in to demands made by coalition partners and swallow some bitter pills. In the last legislative period, the SPD forced her to set a minimum wage. In the next period, the Green Party may push through the closure of brown coal power plants against her will. Or perhaps the Free Democratic Party (FDP) will demand a new immigration law that the CDU does not want. Maybe Merkel will have to accept both if she cannot form a majority with only one other party. This would reduce predictability and increase the willingness to argue in the government.
The vote outcome will probably enable the CDU to form a coalition with the SPD. But the Social Democrats do not really want to take part in a government led by the CDU. Experience has shown that they lose votes by doing so. The gripping question now is how many votes they will lose this time. If less than 25 percent of the ballots cast are for the Social Democrats, the SPD will likely become part of the parliamentary opposition. If the SPD fails to get 20 percent of the vote, then the public may even see Martin Schulz step down as party leader on Sunday. When he took over six months ago, the SPD polled at 30 percent. The drama of political downfall unfolds on an open stage.
An open and modern Germany
But all that is within the bounds of Germany's democratic tradition. However, the question of how many voters have forgotten their history carries a completely different weight. Not everyone who votes for Alternative for Germany (AfD) is a right-wing nationalist or racist. But anyone who votes for this party must know by now whom they are voting for. Right-wing populists cannot win this election, as no one will rule with them.
Internationally, Germany's reputation would take a beating, but stronger right-wing populism won't make a difference to the rest of the world. Nonetheless, right-wing populists will continue to influence the country's political debates. That means that they will more or less have some say in deciding Germany's future direction. The AfD's share of the vote will show how deep the divisions in German society are and how important it will be for the next government to work towards a more cohesive society and ensure an open, modern Germany in Europe.
The success of this task depends on the composition of parliament and thus, the government. That is what Germans decide this Sunday. And it's exciting.