End of an era: Germans vote for Merkel's successor

Germans voted on Sunday (September 26) to choose a successor to Chancellor Angela Merkel, who will usher in a new era and set the course of Europe's largest economy.

Exit polls showed the center-left Social Democrats and Merkel's conservatives tied on around 25%, the latter's weakest performance in decades.

Leaving it unclear who will replace Merkel, who has been in power since 2005 but plans to step down after the election.

Though she could stick around for a while - a fractured electorate means formal coalition talks are likely, and they could go on for months.

Armin Laschet is the conservative candidate. A gaffe-filled campaign has hurt his popularity and continued on Sunday when he folded his ballot paper wrong and revealed who he'd voted for as he posed with it for the cameras.

Luckily, there were no surprises, but the blunder earned him ridicule on social media.

In July, Laschet was also filmed laughing during a visit to a town devastated by flooding.

Running against Laschet is Olaf Scholz of the SPD. He was the finance minister in Merkel's right-left coalition and won all three televised debates between the leading candidates.

But Scholz has seen his party's lead over the conservatives squeezed to 1-3 points in final opinion polls, leaving Laschet with a chance of clinching a narrow victory.

The most likely coalition scenarios see either the SPD or the conservative bloc forming an alliance with the Greens.

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