Germany votes amid fears of a right-wing resurgence

With Angela Merkel expected to win a fourth term comfortably , all eyes are on how well anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant AfD does

People vote in the general election (Bundestagswahl) in Berlin, Germany, September 24, 2017.     REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch
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Dismal weather across much of Germany greeted voters heading to polling booths on Sunday for a historic election expected to change the country's political landscape.

The rain and wind are unlikely to put off supporters of the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) party determined to punish Angela Merkel for her open-door refugee policy. Turnout among the 29.8 million men and 31.7 million women eligible to vote is expected to be high.

The latest polls showed support for AfD at nearly 13 per cent - enough to send nearly 100 representatives to parliament and make it the biggest opposition party.

Mrs Merkel is poised to win power for a fourth time, although she will pay a high price for allowing in more than one million unchecked refugees from war torn lands.

The leader of the Christian Democratic Union party and her main rival Martin Schulz, of the centre-left Social Democrat Party, rallied voters on the eve of Sunday's vote, urging Germans to shun the AfD.

Mrs Merkel, the clear front-runner with a double-digit lead, also told her conservative base not to get "complacent" and urged them to vote to "bring home the bacon".

Voters enter a polling station during general election (Bundestagswahl) in Hamburg, Germany, September 24, 2017. REUTERS/Fabian Bimmer
Voters in Hamburg enter a polling station for the German general election on September 24, 2017. Fabian Bimmer / Reuters

The realisation that a hard-right anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim party is poised for a role on the national stage  is sending shockwaves across Europe. The International Auschwitz Committee warned on Sunday that the "conglomerate of anti-Semites, enemies of democracy and nationalistic agitators will bring an inhuman coldness" to the Reichstag in Berlin, the parliament house.

Its fears were echoed by foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel, a Social Democrat, who warned on Saturday that "for the first time since the end of the Second World War, real Nazis will sit in the German parliament".

Although Mrs Merkel polled 36 per cent ahead of the election and her victory is all but assured, at least 15 per cent of the 61.5 million eligible voters were still to make up their minds.

The world's most powerful woman faced flying tomatoes, cries of "traitor" and "go back to your Muslims" on the campaign trail. But some have taken to calling her Frankenstein, blaming her for creating the monster that is the AfD which will be in parliament with her.

The Social Democrat Party trailed dismally in polls after playing second fiddle to Mrs Merkel's conservatives in a coalition government for the past five years. Many supporters believe it needs a period in the wilderness to reconnect with its base rather than another spell in government.

Electoral shifts could allow Mrs Merkel to form a government with the pro-business liberal Free Democratic Party and the Greens.

About 700,000 helpers from all parties were on the streets on Sunday, trying to get as many as voters as possible to help decide the future of Germany before the polls close at 6pm.