The three main candidates for chancellor are Olaf Schulz (L), Analina Beerbock and Armin Laschitt.
The race for Angela Merkel’s success as German chancellor is wide open, but rivals all face the same daunting challenge: how can you stand, because of such a political group?
Mrs Merkel has dominated German politics for 16 years as chancellor. His successors will have to establish their identity before the September federal elections.
A quick guide to who they are, with a review by our correspondent Damien McGuinness in Berlin.
Armin Laschet, centre-right CDU/CSU
He was a front runner but then his campaign broke down, mostly as a result of his own irreparable mistakes. However, he is not out of the race.
Mr Lachett, 60, is the leader of Chancellor Merkel’s Center for the Christian Democrats (CDU) and prime minister of the heavily industrialized North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), Germany’s most populous state.
After the party leadership rallied behind him, he defeated his Bavarian rival Marcos Soder to win the chancellor’s nomination.
Support for the CDU and its Bavarian sister party, the CSU, was already waning due to epidemics. Mr Lashett himself was accused of contradicting and mismanaging Cove 19 in the NRW.
And then in July, Mr Lashitt was caught on camera laughing as the German president delivered a speech in a town devastated by the catastrophic floods. His reputation was badly damaged and he had to struggle to recover in the polls.
As Germans prepare to vote, the latest poll puts their CDU / CSU Conservatives at 23%, two points behind the center-left SPD. It seems to have its own poll rating issue, with only one in five seeing him as the right candidate for chancellor.
The son of a miner, and a lawyer by training, for years Mr. Laschitt defended Germany’s powerful coal industry. It stands by its decision not to end the use of coal for energy from 2038.
He is well-connected internationally and a staunch supporter of the European Union: he served as a Member of Parliament for the Eurozone and hails from the border town of Aachen with strong French ties.
In 2005, he became Minister of Integration in his hometown, the first such post in Germany, and forged strong ties with its large ethnic Turkish community. He fully supported Mrs Merkel’s soft but controversial immigration policy in 2015, when more than a million refugees arrived in Germany.
The Catholic Church had a strong influence on him as a boy through his devoted parents and the church-run school. She is married with three adult children.
What are the possibilities?
The BBC’s Damien McGuinness in Berlin writes that Armin Laschitt suddenly gave up any drama of being a Merkel-style centrist and emerged as a traditional right-wing fighter. Its conservative allies are happy, but it is a sign of how badly it is campaigning.
Recently, the CDU / CSU hoped to win in the middle of Germany, and ideally scored more than 30 overs. That seems impractical now. So Armen Lashit is suddenly working the right way, and taking care of the basic conservatives.
This is a dangerous tactic, as elections are usually won at the center ground. But he could still be Germany’s next chancellor.
Annalena Baerbock, Greens
The only woman in the race for Angela Merkel’s victory, she is the first candidate for Chancellor of the Greens.
Ms Berbach, a 40-year-old former trampoline champion from a village outside the northern city of Hanover, studied law and politics in Hamburg and London and worked for the Greens in the European Parliament.
Earlier this year, the Greens stepped up the election, with support rising above 25 and the focus on Ms. Beerbook. However, his reputation was tarnished when he was accused of theft and his CV was padded.
She has been a Member of Parliament for the Bundestag since 2013, and as a mother of two young daughters, she has campaigned on family issues as well as the environment. He favors a tougher stance for both China and Russia than for the CDU / CSU or the Social Democrats.
Ms Beerbach has never held a ministry post, but argues that she is unaware of the German “status quo” politics, which she wants to change.
Despite the difficulties of his candidacy, the Greens are still largely proposing to be part of the next ruling coalition. Ms. Beerbach and her co-leader, Robert Hebeck, have a reputation for enforcing discipline in the party that has a history of division between the center and the fundamentalists.
What are the possibilities? Of the three main candidates, Ms Bearback is currently the least likely to become chancellor, but her party is on track to enter government.
After an initial slip in the campaign, she has managed to divert attention from the personality and conservative thinking about the middle-class Green du Guders trying to ban German sausage and cars.
The debate has shifted to concrete policy, where Ms. Beerbach is more confident. Climate change is a major issue for German voters, so other parties are uncertainly advancing their environmental credentials, giving the Green Party a clear boost in its chances of coming to power.
Olaf Scholz, centre-left Social Democrats (SPD)
Like Armen Lashit, Olaf Schulz, 62, has held senior positions in German politics. He is currently the Deputy Prime Minister of Germany and Chancellor Merkel.
Unlike Mr Lashett, his chances of becoming chancellor have increased during the election campaign. He is seen as a safe-haven pair, serving for the first time as a Member of Parliament from 1998 to 2011, when nearly half of the electorate voted for him in a recent referendum.
After a successful reign as mayor of Hamburg (2011-2018), he returned to the Bundestag when he managed to balance the city’s troubled finances.
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