“It is a special election, not only because for the first time since 1949 no incumbent chancellor is running for re-election,” Merkel said in what was likely her last speech in parliament ahead of the vote.
“It is also a special election because it is a decision on the direction of our country in difficult times — and it is not irrelevant who governs this country,” she said.
“The best way for our country is a CDU/CSU-led federal government with Armin Laschet as chancellor, because his government stands for stability, reliability, moderation and centrality.”
Laschet, the chancellor candidate for Merkel’s CDU and its Bavarian CSU ally, was long the favourite to replace her as chancellor, but his ratings have plummeted following a series of gaffes.
As the head of North Rhine-Westphalia state, one of the areas worst affected when deadly floods swept western Germany in July, Laschet was criticised for his lacklustre response to the disaster.
The 60-year-old Rhinelander was caught on camera joking with local officials during a tribute to flood victims, and was also mocked for wearing inappropriate dress shoes to the scene.
But Merkel defended him during a visit to the city of Hagen on Sunday, telling reporters he was “leading the largest state in Germany very successfully”.
The CDU-CSU alliance has seen some of its worst poll results in years as Merkel prepares to bow out of politics after 16 years in power.
One survey for the Bild daily on Sunday showed the conservative alliance on 20 percent, its worst score in the post-war period.
The bloc won 33 percent at the last election in 2017 under Merkel.
The frontrunner is now Vice Chancellor and Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, whose centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) scored 25 percent in the poll.
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