By Ayhan Simsek
Germans headed to polls on Sunday in a general election that is expected to return conservative leader Angela Merkel as the head of another coalition government.
61.5 million people are eligible to vote in the ballot, which opened at 08.00 a.m. local time (0600GMT) and is due to close at 06.00 p.m. local time (1600GMT)
The 63-year-old Merkel, who is seeking a fourth consecutive term as German chancellor, remained the clear favorite in opinion polls throughout the election campaign.
The latest survey by INSA/YouGov released on Friday predicted that Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party Christian Social Union (CSU) would win 34 percent of the vote, but still fall short of an outright majority at the parliament.
Merkel’s main rival Martin Schulz’s Social Democratic Party (SPD) was expected to gain 21 percent.
Behind the SPD, a range of parties from the left to the far-right were battling for the third place.
The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), which adopted an explicit anti-Islamic rhetoric during the election campaign, was polled at around 13 percent, by the INSA/YouGov.
The same survey showed support for Left Party at 11 percent, with liberal Free Democrats just behind at 9 percent, follow by the environmentally-friendly the Greens at 8 percent.
The growing support for the far-right AfD, which failed in the previous general elections to cross the 5 percent threshold to enter the parliament, has been a widespread concern in the country.
“If AfD really enters the Bundestag, for the first time in more than 70 years, Nazis will speak again at the parliament,” Germany’s Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, a social democrat, has recently said.
Germany’s President Frank-Walter Steinmeier has urged citizens to exercise their right to vote, stressing that it is a civic duty in a democratic society.
“One who doesn’t vote, only letting others to decide on the future of our country,” he wrote in an opinion piece published by the weekly Bild am Sonntag on Sunday.
Voter turnout has declined persistently throughout the past few decades. In federal elections four years ago, 28.5 percent of the eligible voters did not vote.
On Sunday, more than 4,800 candidates are contesting to obtain a seat in Germany’s parliament, the Bundestag. Among them, around 100 candidates are of Turkish origin.
The Alliance of German Democrats (AD-D), a new party recently formed by ethnic-Turkish citizens, is running for the first time in the federal election.
It has protested mainstream parties for not taking a strong stance against growing anti-Turkish sentiment in the country.
Among the three million people with Turkish roots in Germany, half of them have German citizenship. Approximately 800,000 ethnic-Turkish citizens are eligible to vote, according to estimates.