Exit polls showing neck-and-neck race between Merkel’s Christian Democrats and rival Social Democrats.
Polls in Germany have closed in one of the most unpredictable elections in its recent history, with Angela Merkel’s conservatives and the centre-left Social Democrats in a tight race for her crown as she prepares to leave the political stage.
Tens of millions of voters headed to polling stations on Sunday to determine the country’s next government and the chancellor who will lead it.
Voting ended at 16:00 GMT with exit polls showing neck-and-neck race between Merkel’s Christian Democrats and rival Social Democrats.
The election is the first since the county reunified in 1990 that Merkel will not run in as a candidate.
After 16 years in the chancellery, the woman, who became the defining European leader of her era, will step aside once a new government is formed.
Opinion polls narrowed in the final week but the Social Democrats (SPD) still hold a slight lead over Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its sister party, the Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU), making it the first real contest in many years.
“Ever since 2005, we knew that the Christian Democrats would end up as the strongest party and that nobody else would be able or willing to form a government against them,” said Thorsten Benner, director of the Berlin-based Global Public Policy Institute.
Two final surveys published on Friday put the SPD ahead of the CDU-CSU alliance by 26 points to 25 and 25 to 22, respectively.
More to follow