Germany's election has ended in a dead heat, exit polls suggest - with outgoing leader Angela Merkel's party locked in a two-way split.

The Christian Democratic Union and Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU) is tied at 25 per cent of the votes with the centre-left Social Democrat (SPD), reports say.

Germans have been voting for a new federal parliament, choosing who will govern them for the next four years.

Merkel - the leader of the CDU - is standing down after 16 years in power.

It is thought that coalition-building is likely to take time, as parties have to agree on common ground and decide on key posts.

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrives at the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) headquarters in Berlin (


AFP via Getty Images)

But Lars Klingbeil, secretary-general of the SPD, said his party had a "mandate to govern" following the exit polls.

"The SPD has the mandate to govern. We want Olaf Scholz to be chancellor," he said.

Paul Ziemiak, general secretary of the CDU, told broadcaster ARD that the predicted result "hurts" after the exit poll figures were released.

The CDU/CSU's 25 per cent share is their weakest result in a post-war federal election.

Attention will now shift to informal discussions - likely with the Greens, on 15 per cent, and liberal Free Democrats (FDP), on 11 per cent - followed by more formal coalition negotiations which could take months, leaving Merkel in charge in a caretaker role.

After a domestic-focused election campaign, Berlin's allies in Europe and beyond may have to wait for months before they can see whether the new German government is ready to engage on foreign issues to the extent they would like.

German Finance Minister and Social Democratic Party (SPD) candidate for chancellor Olaf Scholz casts his ballot (



Merkel has been in power since 2005 but plans to step down after the election, making the vote an era-changing event to set the future course of Europe's largest economy.

The election pitted Armin Laschet, of the CDU, against Olaf Scholz of the SPD, the finance minister in Merkel's "grand coalition" who won all three televised debates between the leading candidates.

Both the conservatives and the FDP reject a European "debt union" and want to ensure that joint European Union borrowing to finance the bloc's coronavirus recovery package remains a one-off.

The SPD has talked about taking steps towards a fiscal union.

The Greens favour a common European fiscal policy to support investment in the environment, research, infrastructure and education.

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