Angela Merkel made a final plea to voters to back her preferred successor as German Chancellor on Saturday as a hard-fought campaign reaches its end.
Armin Laschet, running for Ms Merkel’s centre-right Christian Democrats (CDU), trails in the polls after a faltering campaign to succeed her at Sunday’s election.
He is pinning his hopes on a late comeback similar to one he pulled off in 2017, when Ms Merkel helped him come from behind to win the premiership of Germany’s largest state, North Rhine-Westphalia.
“Back then, Angela Merkel came here. I’m sure, because she’s here again, that we will succeed again tomorrow,” Mr Laschet said at a rally in his home town of Aachen.
“We have to use the last few hours to tell everyone who’s doubtful that if they want stability in Germany, the CDU has to come first tomorrow.”
Ms Merkel, who is bowing out after 16 years in power, praised Mr Laschet as a “bridge-builder who will get people on board” in leading Germany.
“It’s about your future, the future of your children and the future of your parents,” she said.
“I can say from experience that in the political life of a chancellor, there are points at which it’s anything but irrelevant who governs.”
Polls show the CDU second behind the Social Democrats (SPD), whose candidate Olaf Scholz is a member of Ms Merkel’s coalition cabinet.
Late polls gave Mr Laschet hope of a comeback, with one survey published on Friday showing the SPD’s lead cut to one point.
Ms Merkel has pushed back against Mr Scholz’s efforts to present himself as the true heir to her pragmatic brand.
She and Mr Laschet have both raised the alarm over the possibility that Mr Scholz could form a coalition with a small left-wing party, the Linke, which opposes Germany’s role in Nato.
“We need a stable government, and I don’t trust them [the Linke] on foreign, European and policy questions,” Mr Laschet said.
“What they represent is wrong.” He was applauded for saying he would not co-operate with the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) either.
Mr Scholz spent the final day of campaigning in Potsdam, near Berlin, where he is running for a parliamentary seat.
Also running in Potsdam, Green party candidate Annalena Baerbock portrayed herself as the candidate for genuine change.
“Everything is at stake in this election. We are free to decide anew, and that is the beauty of a democracy,” she said.
Germans have two votes – one for a local MP and one for a party list, which decides the shape of the new parliament.
Polls open at 8am local time on Sunday. The first projection of results will come through when polling stations close at 6pm.
Attention will then turn to post-election coalition talks. Ms Merkel will remain in office for as long as necessary until a new government is formed.
Although there are no formal restrictions on her power as a caretaker, previous chancellors have not made radical decisions in this period.