Some 62 million Germans go to the polls in an election almost certain to result in a second term for conservative Angela Merkel at the helm of Europe's most populous nation and top economy.
Barring a major election-day surprise, polls show the 55-year-old Merkel, a pastor's daughter from the former communist East Germany and Forbes magazine's world's most powerful woman, is a shoo-in to be re-elected chancellor.
The key question to be resolved Sunday in Germany's coalition-based political system is whether her centre-right Christian Democrats (CDU) can win enough votes to form their preferred alliance with the liberal Free Democrats.
If not, Germany is in for a second term of a grand coalition between the CDU and the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) -- a gloomy prospect for a country dragging itself out of its deepest postwar recession, say many economists.
Latest polls put the CDU on around 36 per cent and the Free Democrats on about 13 per cent, just enough to scrape a razor-thin parliamentary majority.
The SPD is languishing near 25 per cent, with their coalition partners the Greens on around 10 per cent.
"I am certain that Mrs Merkel will be the next chancellor. I do not see any alternative to her. The only interesting question is, in which coalition?" Gerd Langguth, professor of political science at Bonn University and author of a biography of Merkel, told AFP.