But after almost 16 years in the top job, she will step down once it becomes clear who her successor will be.Polling predictions on Saturday suggested the race was too close to call, with the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) holding a small but narrowing lead over Merkel's party, the center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU).The closeness of the race coupled with Germany's complicated voting system means it could take some time before a winning coalition is formed and the ultimate victor is known.Those lining up as candidates to replace Merkel are Armin Laschet, a long-time ally of Merkel and leader of the CDU since January; Olaf Scholz, leader of the left-leaning SPD; and the Greens' Annalena Baerbock.Environmental concerns and economic worries have emerged as key issues in campaigning, with the former fueled by the deadly floods that devastated parts of Germany this summer.At his final campaign rally Saturday in Potsdam, Scholz referenced concerns over climate change and said that, if elected, he wanted to agree an increase in the minimum wage to 12 euro ($14) an hour within the first year of government.Laschet, meanwhile, held a final campaign rally with Merkel in Aachen during which the outgoing chancellor praised his "passion and heart" and said the election was about the country remaining "stable" and ensuring "that the youth have a future and we can still live in prosperity."Laschet in turn paid tribute to Merkel's time at the helm, saying she had "successfully governed Germany for 16 years." Merkel, the second-longest serving Chancellor in German history, has been widely seen as a steady pair of hands in the face of challenges including the financial crisis of 2007-2008, Britain's exit from the European Union, and, most recently, the Covid-19 pandemic.She has been a driving force for European cohesion and attempted to maintain close ties with the United States and China.Now, with her departure, a period of unaccustomed uncertainty beckons for Germany, the EU and the wider world, although shifts in Germany's international policy are unlikely to be dramatic.In an unwelcome twist, the European Commission on Friday accused Russia of trying to interfere in European democratic processes through "malicious cyber activities." German politicians and officials were among those targeted, an EU official told CNN.Greens could play kingmakerGerman politics has long been dominated by the Christian Democrats and Social Democrats, who have governed together in a coalition for the past eight years.
Baerbock caused a brief sensation in German politics when she surged in the polls early in the campaign, prompting voters to wonder whether she could become the country's first Green chancellor.Some 60.4 million people age 18 and above are eligible to vote in this election, according to figures from Germany's Federal Statistics Office.Each will have two votes to cast -- one for the candidate to represent their constituency, of which there are 299 in the Bundestag, or German parliament, and a second vote for their preferred party.