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Armin Laschet, Christian Union parties candidate for Chancellery and Minister President of North Rhine-Westphalia, casts his ballot for the German parliament election in Aachen, Germany, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021. German voters are choosing a new parliament in an election that will determine who succeeds Chancellor Angela Merkel after her 16 years at the helm of Europe’s biggest economy. (Thilo Schmuelgen/Pool via AP)

The general secretary of the center-left Social Democrats says he believes his party has been given a mandate to form a ruling coalition, based on exit polls in Germany’s general election.

Lars Klingbeil was speaking moments after the exit polls were published by the two main television channels on Sunday.

In a poll by the ZDF channel, the SPD was slightly ahead of its main rival, the center-right Union bloc, 26% to 24%. In the poll published by the ARD channel, the parties pulled even at 25%.

The polls suggested significant gains for the Social Democrats, compared to its standing earlier this year, and a sharp drop for the Union bloc. Klingbeil says the party now “has the mission to form a coalition,” and for its top candidate, Olaf Scholz to become chancellor.

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Afd's top candidate Tino Chrupalla, right, and Alexander Gauland, chairman of the Afd parliamentary group, stand on the sidelines of an Afd election party for the federal election as they wait for the first forecasts on the outcome of the election, in Berlin, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021. German voters are choosing a new parliament in an election that will determine who succeeds Chancellor Angela Merkel after her 16 years at the helm of Europe’s biggest economy.  (Julian Stratenschulte/dpa via AP)German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrives at the Christian Democratic Union, CDU, party's headquarters shortly before voting ends in the German parliament elections in Berlin, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)Guests at the election party of Die Linke react at the Karl-Liebknecht-Haus after the publication of the first forecasts on the outcome of the 2021 federal election, in Berlin Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021. Exit polls show the center-left Social Democrats in a very close race with outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel’s bloc in Germany’s parliamentary election, which will determine who succeeds the longtime leader after 16 years in power.  (Jan Woitas/dpa via AP)

BERLIN – The general secretary of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Union bloc says that early exit polls “hurt” as the party looked at its worst result since 1949.

With different exit polls putting the Union bloc neck-and-neck or slightly below the center-left Social Democrats, Paul Ziemiak said on Sunday that his party nevertheless wants to “serve this country” and will consider a coalition with the environmentalist Greens and the pro-business Free Democrats.

Exit polls by public broadcasters ARD and ZDF show the Union bloc down 8-9% compared to 2017, after four elections in which the party won under Merkel. Her successor, Armin Laschet, had low personal approval ratings and some in the party had questioned whether he was the right candidate for chancellorship.

Ziemiak said that his party was looking at “bitter losses” that would need to be analyzed.Annalena Baerbock, left, top candidate for chancellor of the Green Party (Die Gruenen), and her husband Daniel Holefleisch arrive at a polling station in Potsdam, Germany, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021 German voters are choosing a new parliament in an election that will determine who succeeds Chancellor Angela Merkel after her 16 years at the helm of Europe’s biggest economy. (Jan Woitas/dpa via AP)German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrives at the Konrad Adenauer House in Berlin, Germany, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021. German voters are choosing a new parliament in an election that will determine who succeeds Chancellor Angela Merkel after her 16 years at the helm of Europe’s biggest economy.  (Michael Kappeler/dpa via AP)Voters stand outside a polling station in the last hour before polls close, in Berlin, Germany, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021. German voters are choosing a new parliament in an election that will determine who succeeds Chancellor Angela Merkel after her 16 years at the helm of Europe’s biggest economy. (Sebastian Gollnow/dpa via AP)Supporters of the SPD react to the first results of the federal election in front of the Willy Brandt House, Berlin, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021. Exit polls show the center-left Social Democrats in a very close race with outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel’s bloc in Germany’s parliamentary election, which will determine who succeeds the longtime leader after 16 years in power. (Britta Pedersen/dpa via AP)

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BERLIN – Hundreds of people burst out in spontaneous chants of “Olaf, Olaf”- the first name of the Social Democrats’ candidate for chancellor Olaf Scholz – when exit poll results flashed acroos TV screens at the party’s Berlin headquarters.

A cheering Renée Röske from Cologne said she had been telling everyone that Scholz was the “best candidate” and that it’s now reflected in the exit polls.

The 42 year-old Röske said she noticed over the summer that once people realized that Merkel isn’t running again, they became more interested in politics and started to inform themselves about the three main candidates.

She said people noticed that Scholz “did the right things” during the pandemic and “that’s why the SPD in now leading, because Scholz is good.”Guests at the election party of Die Linke react at the Karl-Liebknecht-Haus after the publication of the first forecasts on the outcome of the 2021 federal election, in Berlin Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021. Exit polls show the center-left Social Democrats in a very close race with outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel’s bloc in Germany’s parliamentary election, which will determine who succeeds the longtime leader after 16 years in power.  (Jan Woitas/dpa via AP)Guests at the election party of Die Linke react at the Karl-Liebknecht-Haus after the publication of the first forecasts on the outcome of the 2021 federal election, in Berlin Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021. Exit polls show the center-left Social Democrats in a very close race with outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel’s bloc in Germany’s parliamentary election, which will determine who succeeds the longtime leader after 16 years in power.  (Jan Woitas/dpa via AP)

Annalena Baerbock, top candidate for chancellor of the Green Party (Die Gruenen), arrives at a polling station in Potsdam, Germany, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021. On Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021 about 60.4 million people in the nation of 83 million are eligible to elect the new Bundestag, or lower house of parliament, which will elect the next head of government. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)Annalena Baerbock, right, top candidate for chancellor of the Green Party (Die Gruenen), and her husband Daniel Holefleisch wait in line outside a polling station in Potsdam, Germany, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021. German voters are choosing a new parliament in an election that will determine who succeeds Chancellor Angela Merkel after her 16 years at the helm of Europe’s biggest economy. (Photo by John Macdougall, Pool via AP)Candidate for chancellor Armin Laschet,  left, and his wife Susanne cast their ballots in Aachen, Germany, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021. German voters are choosing a new parliament in an election that will determine who succeeds Chancellor Angela Merkel after her 16 years at the helm of Europe’s biggest economy. (Federico Gambarini/dpa via AP)

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BERLIN – Germany’s election authority is making clear that center-right chancellor candidate Armin Laschet’s votes will be valid although they could be seen Sunday as he put his ballot paper into the ballot box.

German election rules state that ballot papers should be folded in such a way that it’s not possible to see how the person voted. It wasn’t immediately clear whether election officials in Laschet’s constituency in Aachen had noticed that his paper was folded wrongly, a moment that was caught by cameras.

Laschet is from outgoing German leader Angela Merkel’s Union bloc.

Without explicitly naming Laschet, the election authority tweeted that “a nationally known politician voted for his own party, as expected.” It said that couldn’t be seen as an attempt to influence voters.

It said if the ballot paper is folded wrongly, election officials are supposed to issue a new ballot paper. But if the wrongly folded ballot gets into the ballot box, it can no longer be screened out and is valid. Laschet’s paper went into the ballot box.A CDU member watches the first results in the German parliament elections at the Christian Democratic Union, CDU, party's headquarters in Berlin, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021. German voters are choosing a new parliament in an election that will determine who succeeds Chancellor Angela Merkel after her 16 years at the helm of Europe's biggest economy. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)Social Democratic Party, SPD, candidate for chancellor Olaf Scholz is pictured at a poster that reads: "Respect For You" at the party's headquarters just after German parliament election in Berlin, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)Guests at the election party of the Greens party react after the publication of the first forecasts on the outcome of the election for the state of Berlin, in Berlin, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021. Exit polls show the center-left Social Democrats in a very close race with outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel’s bloc in Germany’s parliamentary election, which will determine who succeeds the longtime leader after 16 years in power (Kay Nietfeld/dpa via AP)

Armin Laschet, Christian Democratic Union parties candidate foe Chancellery and Minister President of North Rhine-Westphalia laughs after he casts his vote for the German parliament election in Aachen, Germany, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021. Sept. 26, 2021 about 60.4 million people in the nation of 83 million are eligible to elect the new Bundestag, or lower house of parliament, which will elect the next head of government. (Rolf Vennenbernd/dpa via AP)Manuela Schwesig (SPD), Minister President of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and the SPD's top candidate for the state elections in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, waits outside a polling station in Schwein, Germany, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021. In Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, about 1.32 million eligible voters are called to the state elections. (Jens Büttner/dpa via AP)

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BERLIN — The environmentalist Greens’ candidate to be the next German chancellor says she’s hoping for “a few more votes” than pre-election polls showed her party getting.

Annalena Baerbock is the party’s first candidate for chancellor. It led in polls after she was nominated in the spring but recent surveys have shown it in third place, several points behind the center-left Social Democrats and outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Union bloc.

Baerbock said as she voted Sunday in Potsdam, just outside Berlin, that “we are of course hoping for a few more votes, with a view to the poll results, so that we can achieve a real new departure in this country.”

Even if the Greens aren’t in a position to provide Germany’s next leader, the party could be crucial to putting together a new coalition after the election. Polls point to a much better showing than the 8.9% of the vote it won in 2017.SPD supporters and members cheer at the election party of the Berlin SPD after the first forecasts for the outcome of the elections to the House of Representatives were announced, in Berlin, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021. Exit polls show the center-left Social Democrats in a very close race with outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel’s bloc in Germany’s parliamentary election, which will determine who succeeds the longtime leader after 16 years in power. (Bernd Von Jutrczenka/dpa via AP)CDU members watch the first results in the German parliament elections at the Christian Democratic Union, CDU, party's headquarters in Berlin, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021. German voters are choosing a new parliament in an election that will determine who succeeds Chancellor Angela Merkel after her 16 years at the helm of Europe's biggest economy. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)SPD supporters wave flags in front of the sculpture of Willy Brandt at the Willy Brandt House during the election party in Berlin, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021. Exit polls show the center-left Social Democrats in a very close race with outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel’s bloc in Germany’s parliamentary election, which will determine who succeeds the longtime leader after 16 years in power. (Britta Pedersen/dpa via AP)Afd's top candidate Tino Chrupalla talks to his supporters as he follows the first forecasts on the outcome of the election at the Alternative for Germany party, AfD, election event in Berlin, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)

A man casts his ballot for the German elections in a polling station in Berlin, Germany, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021. In background the German national flag. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)Annalena Baerbock, top candidate for chancellor of the Green Party (Die Gruenen), casts her ballot at a polling station in Potsdam, Germany, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021. German voters are choosing a new parliament in an election that will determine who succeeds Chancellor Angela Merkel after her 16 years at the helm of Europe’s biggest economy. (Ronny Hartmann, Pool via AP)

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BERLIN — Center-right candidate Armin Laschet’s votes were visible as he put his ballot paper into the ballot box — something that is supposed to be a no-no under German election law.

Election rules state that ballot papers should be folded in such a way that it’s not possible to see how the person voted.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether election officials in Laschet’s constituency in Aachen had noticed that his paper was folded wrongly on Sunday, a moment that was caught by cameras, or whether the faux pas would have any consequences.

Laschet is the candidate of outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Union bloc to succeed Germany’s longtime leader. Polls show his party neck-and-neck with the center-left Social Democrats after a bumpy campaign.

Under Germany’s complex electoral system, every voter gets two votes — one for a directly elected lawmaker and the other for a party list.Party members take pictures after the German parliament elections at the Christian Democratic Union, CDU, party's headquarters in Berlin, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021. German voters are choosing a new parliament in an election that will determine who succeeds Chancellor Angela Merkel after her 16 years at the helm of Europe's biggest economy. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)AfD top candidate Tino Chrupalla speaks at the AfD election party after the first forecasts on the outcome of the Bundestag election in Berlin, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021. Exit polls show the center-left Social Democrats in a very close race with outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel’s bloc in Germany’s parliamentary election, which will determine who succeeds the longtime leader after 16 years in power.  (Julian Stratenschulte/dpa via AP)A CDU member reacts after seeing the first results in the German parliament elections at the Christian Democratic Union, CDU, party's headquarters in Berlin, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021. German voters are choosing a new parliament in an election that will determine who succeeds Chancellor Angela Merkel after her 16 years at the helm of Europe's biggest economy. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)AfD top candidate Tino Chrupalla speaks at the AfD election party after the first forecasts on the outcome of the Bundestag election in Berlin, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021. Exit polls show the center-left Social Democrats in a very close race with outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel’s bloc in Germany’s parliamentary election, which will determine who succeeds the longtime leader after 16 years in power.  (Julian Stratenschulte/dpa via AP)

Clouds drift over the Reichstag building with the German parliament in Berlin, Germany, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021. German elections are held on Sunday. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)Election workers open the pink envelopes during the counting of the postal vote for the Germany parliament election, in Cologne, Germany, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021. German voters are choosing a new parliament in an election that will determine who succeeds Chancellor Angela Merkel after her 16 years at the helm of Europe’s biggest economy. (Rolf Vennenbernd/dpa via AP)Annalena Baerbock, left, top candidate for chancellor of the Green Party (Die Gruenen), and her husband Daniel Holefleisch cast their ballots at a polling station in Potsdam, Germany, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021. German voters are choosing a new parliament in an election that will determine who succeeds Chancellor Angela Merkel after her 16 years at the helm of Europe’s biggest economy. (Ronny Hartmann, Pool via AP)

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BERLIN — Armin Laschet, the candidate of outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right bloc to become Germany’s new leader, says the election result “will come down to every vote.”

Recent polls point to a very close race between Laschet’s center-right Union bloc and the center-left Social Democrats, with the Greens trailing in third.

Laschet said as he voted Sunday in Aachen, on Germany’s western border, that the election “will decide on Germany’s direction in the coming years, and so it will come down to every vote.”

His Social Democrat rival, Olaf Scholz, said after he voted in Potsdam, just outside Berlin, that he hopes voters “will make possible … a very strong result for the Social Democrats, and that citizens will give me the mandate to become the next chancellor of Germany.”

Green candidate Annalena Baerbock is expected to vote in Potsdam later Sunday. Merkel’s spokesman has said that the outgoing leader was casting a postal ballot — as many Germans are expected to in this election.Guests at the election party of the Greens react after the publication of the first forecasts on the outcome of the 2021 federal election in Berlin, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021. Exit polls show the center-left Social Democrats in a very close race with outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel’s bloc in Germany’s parliamentary election, which will determine who succeeds the longtime leader after 16 years in power.  (Kay Nietfeld/dpa via AP)Afd's top candidate Tino Chrupalla is interviewed by a journalist as he follows the first forecasts on the outcome of the election at the Alternative for Germany party, AfD, election event in Berlin, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)Members and supporters of the Green Party (Die Gruenen) gesture at the Green Party event after the close of polling stations during German parliament election, in Berlin, Germany, on Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

Members and supporters of the Green Party (Die Gruenen) gesture at the Green Party event after the close of polling stations during German parliament election, in Berlin, Germany, on Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

Voters stand in front of a European, German and Berlin flag at a polling station to cast their votes in Berlin, Germany, Sunday,  Sept. 26, 2021. German elect a new national parliament. (Sebastian Gollnow/dpa via AP)Election workers open the pink envelopes during the counting of the postal vote for the Germany parliament election, in Cologne, Germany, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021. German voters are choosing a new parliament in an election that will determine who succeeds Chancellor Angela Merkel after her 16 years at the helm of Europe’s biggest economy. (Rolf Vennenbernd/dpa via AP)

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BERLIN — Voters are delivering a mixed verdict on the era of outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel as they choose a new German parliament, and some are struggling with the choice of potential new leaders.

Polls opened Sunday after a rollercoaster campaign. Recent surveys point to a very close race between Merkel’s center-right Union bloc and the center-left Social Democrats, with the Greens trailing in third.

In Berlin’s Kreuzberg district, a traditional leftwing stronghold, Jan Kemper, a 41-year-old manager at an online bank, said the climate crisis and Germany’s slow pace of digitalization were among his main concerns.

He praised Merkel’s crisis management style but said that key issues were left unattended.

“This election is extremely important,” he said. “Previously, elections set the course for the next two to four years. Now decisions have to be made that will affect the next generations.”

In Berlin’s Mitte district, 48-year-old social worker Wiebke Bergmann said that “this election is really special, I think, because Angela Merkel is not running again.”

She said: “I really thought hard about which candidate I want as next chancellor — until this morning I hadn’t made up my mind. None of the three really convinced me.”Election workers open the pink envelopes during the counting of the postal vote for the Germany parliament election, in Cologne, Germany, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021. German voters are choosing a new parliament in an election that will determine who succeeds Chancellor Angela Merkel after her 16 years at the helm of Europe’s biggest economy. (Rolf Vennenbernd/dpa via AP)

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier casts his vote for the national elections in Berlin, Germany, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021. (Kai Pfaffenbach/Pool via AP)

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BERLIN — German voters are choosing a new parliament in an election that will determine who succeeds Chancellor Angela Merkel after her 16 years at the helm of Europe’s biggest economy.

Polls point to a very close race Sunday. The battle is between Merkel’s center-right Union bloc with state governor Armin Laschet running for chancellor and the center-left Social Democrats for whom outgoing finance minister and Vice Chancellor Olaf Scholz is seeking the top job.

Recent surveys show the Social Democrats marginally ahead. They also show the environmentalist Greens who are putting forth candidate Annalena Baerbock are in third place several points behind. About 60.4 million people in the nation of 83 million are eligible to elect the new parliament.Election workers open the pink envelopes during the counting of the postal vote for the Germany parliament election, in Cologne, Germany, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021. German voters are choosing a new parliament in an election that will determine who succeeds Chancellor Angela Merkel after her 16 years at the helm of Europe’s biggest economy. (Rolf Vennenbernd/dpa via AP)

Social Democratic Party, SPD, candidate for chancellor Olaf Scholz casts his vote for the German parliament election in Potsdam, Berlin, Germany, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021. (Wolfgang Rattay/Pool via AP)

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BERLIN — Two climate activists have ended their hunger strike after a leading candidate for chancellor of Germany agreed to a public meeting with them following Sunday’s general election.

The decision came just hours after the hunger strikers had escalated their protest Saturday, refusing liquids in addition to food. They had demanded that Olaf Scholz, the candidate for the Social Democrats, declare publicly that Germany faces a climate emergency.

Scholz confirmed the planned meeting in a statement on Twitter, saying saving lives takes precedent. Scholz and his two rivals for the top job had refused to meet with the hunger strikers before the election.

An election volunteer opens the polling box for a woman that she can casts her vote for Germany's national parliament election at a polling station in Berlin, Germany, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021. German voters are choosing a new parliament in an election that will determine who succeeds Chancellor Angela Merkel after her 16 years at the helm of Europe's biggest economy. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)A man casts his vote for Germany's national parliament election at a polling station in Berlin, Germany, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021. German voters are choosing a new parliament in an election that will determine who succeeds Chancellor Angela Merkel after her 16 years at the helm of Europe's biggest economy. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

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