German election to set direction after 16 years under Merkel

Germany Election

BERLIN (AP) — Germany's closely fought election on Sunday will set the direction of the European Union's most populous country after 16 years under Angela Merkel, whose party is scrambling to avoid defeat by its center-left rivals after a rollercoaster campaign. The environmentalist Greens also are eyeing at least a share of power.

About 60.4 million people in the nation of 83 million are eligible to elect the new parliament, which decides who will be the next head of government. Recent polls point to a neck-and-neck race between Merkel's center-right Union bloc and the Social Democrats, with the latter marginally ahead.

The polls show the Greens, making their first bid for the chancellorship, in third place after a campaign in which all three have held the lead. The Social Democrats' candidate, current finance minister and Vice Chancellor Olaf Scholz, has seen his personal ratings climb amid error-strewn campaigns by his rivals, the Union's Armin Laschet and the Greens' Annalena Baerbock.

Merkel, who remains personally popular after steering Germany through a string of crises, announced in 2018 that she wouldn't go for a fifth term. That set up the first election since West Germany's initial vote in 1949 in which there is no incumbent chancellor seeking re-election.

Voters appear underwhelmed