COMMENT

On top, but it's downwards from now on

Chancellor Angela Merkel's likely win in the German parliamentary elections on Sunday is the beginning of the end of her political standing on top.

Unless there are any last minute surprises, Merkel's ruling conservative party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), will comfortably win the German parliamentary elections this weekend, sealing Merkel's fourth term as chancellor, a feat only achieved by her former mentor Helmut Kohl.

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According to current polls, the CDU is polling at about 36 per cent, whereas the Social Democrats of challenger Martin Schulz is polling at about 22 per cent.

Merkel has governed the most important European country for 12 years already and it is fair to say that Merkel, whether deserving of the newly ascribed moniker 'leader of the free world' or not, is at the height of her power.

For years, Merkel's source of power has been the simple promise of stability and security; two things which most Germans are very susceptible to.

Certainly, the previous three decades have seen major upheavals: beginning with reunification in the 1990s, the social and labour reforms of the early 2000s, the Euro-crisis of the late 2000s and most recently, the refugee crisis.

The German mood is very much dominated by a certain fatigue but also complacency with regard to the recent economic, political and diplomatic achievements. The country is doing remarkably well after all.

Merkel's demobilising lack of political vision and her incremental-managerial style of politics came just at the right time.

Many Germans are actually glad that someone seemingly level-headed and reliable promises to keep the international madness of Brexit, Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Isis (Islamic State) at bay.

However, the upcoming election day will be the beginning of the end of Merkel's long reign over the country.

Firstly, no chancellor has ever won a fifth term, and in addition, there have been reports in the past few years that Merkel herself feels tired, but doesn't want to leave the German ship now in difficult international waters. It is, of course, hard to tell what's true here and what's legend building and spin.

Secondly, Merkel has only two rather volatile options for building her next coalition government: another grand coalition with the Social Democrats or an unprecedented three-party coalition with the FDP liberals and the Green Party nicknamed 'Jamaica' after the German political colour-coding for the three parties (black-yellow-green).

Grand coalitions were supposed to be the exception in the German system but have become the norm under Chancellor Merkel. No one in Berlin, especially the Social Democrats who have suffered as junior partners in Merkel's big shadow, wants another grand coalition at the moment.

The three-party 'Jamaica' coalition, however, excites more political observers and insiders alike.

There has never been a three-party coalition government at the federal level and there are many doubts as to how stable such an arrangement of parties with clear diverging political ideologies can really be.

Still, Merkel is known for her openness to work together with the Greens, also in an attempt to extend the conservatives strategic options in the future and to break the Greens out from the group of left-wing parties. Thus, 'Jamaica' might be Merkel's best shot at forging another personal legacy.

The current Greens leadership also covets returning to government after over a decade in opposition, yet members of the Greens could possibly still oppose such a deal if asked to vote on the matter. The liberals, on the other hand, will gladly join Merkel's next government after having been voted out of parliament altogether at the last parliamentary elections in 2013.

Thirdly, the right-wing populist party Alternative fuer Deutschland (AfD), which is running on an anti-EU, anti-Islam, and especially, an anti-Merkel protest platform, is currently polling at 11 percent.

At that percentage, AfD is on track to become the third largest party in the Bundestag.

AfD is a union of jaundiced conservatives, conspiracy theorists and Nazi sympathisers, who will keep attacking Merkel personally and will try to shift the political discourse even further to the right, even though all other parties have vowed to isolate them politically.

Finally, in terms of policies, Merkel has very successfully shifted the CDU to the centre in the last decade, much to the dismay of more conservative party members, especially those from the Bavarian sister-party, the CSU. Their Bavarian leader, Horst Seehofer, has publicly confronted Merkel over her refugee policy and will likely intend to push for more right-wing positions even when in government.

But tensions are also present in the CDU itself, especially regarding questions as to who will be the next party leader after Merkel.

It will be a good indication of the future course of the CDU whether ministers close to Merkel, such as Ursula von der Leyen, who is currently Defence Minister, or Thomas de Maizière, her Interior Minister, will prevail or whether the CDU membership base will seek out more conservative candidates.

In any case, the inner-party race for Chancellor Merkel's succession begins the day after election day, and Merkel will become more of a lame duck with every passing day.

- Patrick Flamm is a PhD Student (Asian Studies/International Relations) at the University of Auckland