Voters in the German state of Lower Saxony are going to the polls in a regional election seen as a bellwether for national elections later this year.
The state is currently controlled by German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) in coalition with the pro-market Free Democrats.
But opposition parties are hoping to make gains ahead of national elections in September.
Opinion polls suggested the race would be close.
David McAllister, the current leader of Lower Saxony’s government and close ally of Chancellor Merkel, will be hoping for re-election.
He was born in Berlin to a German mother and a Scottish father, and is seen as a possible successor to Chancellor Merkel as CDU leader.
But polls now put his CDU-led coalition neck-and-neck with the opposition Social Democrats (SPD).
The SPD have seen a previously comfortable lead over the incumbents evaporate as polling day approached.
The SDP leader in Lower Saxony, Stephan Weil, said a victory in the state polls would ensure that his party was taken seriously in September’s national elections.
A CDU defeat in Lower Saxony would set alarm bells ringing for Angela Merkel, who is seeking a third term as chancellor in September.
Since Angela Merkel’s re-election as chancellor in 2009, the CDU has suffered set backs in recent state elections, and have lost power to the SDP and Greens in four other states.
There is also concern that the CDU’s coalition partners, the Free Democrats, will not win enough votes to maintain the coalition.
They require 5% of the vote to gain seats in the state legislature.
Angela Merkel has appeared several times on the campaign trail with David McAllister, who has played heavily on his Scottish roots.
Known as “Mac”, David McAllister has used bagpipes in his election broadcasts, and speaks English with a broad Scottish accent.