Germans warned against apathy as Merkel heads for fourth term

BERLIN (Reuters) – Germans were urged to vote in a national election on Sunday in which a seemingly assured fourth term for Chancellor Angela Merkel risks being overshadowed by a far-right party entering parliament for the first time in more than half a century.

After shock election results last year, from Britain’s vote to leave the European Union to the election of U.S. President Donald Trump, many look to Merkel to rally a bruised liberal Western order, tasking her with leading a post-Brexit Europe.

Writing in the mass-market Bild am Sonntag newspaper, President Frank-Walter Steinmeier warned Germans against letting others decide the future of their country by failing to vote.

“It has perhaps never been as clear that the elections are about the future of democracy and Europe,” he wrote, amid polls showing that as many as a third of Germans were undecided.

“If you don’t vote, others decide.”

In Germany’s proportional election system, low turn-out can boost smaller parties, such as the hard-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), giving them more seats from the same number of votes.

In regional elections last year, Merkel’s conservatives suffered setbacks to the AfD, which profited from resentment at her 2015 decision to open German borders to more than one million migrants.

Those setbacks made Merkel, a pastor’s daughter who grew up in Communist East Germany, wonder if she should even run for re-election.

But with the migrant issue under control this year, she has bounced back and thrown herself into a punishing campaign schedule, presenting herself as an anchor of stability in an uncertain world.

Visibly happier, Merkel campaigned with renewed conviction: a resolve to re-tool the economy for the digital age, to head off future migrant crises, and to defend a Western order shaken by Trump’s victory last November.

A woman wearing traditional Sorb clothing casts her vote in a polling station in Crostwitz, eastern Germany, September 24, 2017. REUTERS/Matthias Rietschel

“GRAVEDIGGERS OF DEMOCRACY”

Both Merkel and her main challenger, Social Democrat leader Martin Schulz worry that a low turnout could work in favor of smaller parties, especially the AfD, which is expected to enter the national parliament for the first time.

Schulz, who on Friday described the AfD as “gravediggers of democracy”, told reporters after voting that he was still optimistic that his party, a distant second according to polls, would pick up the votes of…

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