Although the German political system has been a multi-party democracy since 1945, two parties have traditionally dominated German politics: the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Social Democratic Party (SPD).
|Merkel's CDU party and Steinmeier's SPD have largely dominated the German political scene since the end of the second world war [GALLO/GETTY]
But 27 other parties, including the Alliance 90/The Greens, the Free Democratic Party (FDP), and the Left Party are expected to participate in the country's 17th national election.
More than 62 million voters will be eligible to vote. Below are the leading political parties contesting the vote on September 27.
|Christian Democratic Union (CDU)
The conservative CDU, with its southern sister party the Christian Social Union (CSU), has enjoyed the longest stretch in power since the second world war.
|Angela Merkel says she is dedicated to the Nato mission in Afghanistan [GALLO/GETTY]
It led the government from 1949-1969, from 1982-1998, and since 2005. It has put forward chancellors like Konrad Adenauer, Helmut Kohl, and Angela Merkel, the incumbent.
In the post-war era, most CDU followers came from the former Centre Party, which was heavily influenced by the Catholic church.
Located on the centre-right of the political spectrum, the party traditionally believes in a dominant role for the market economy while at the same time advocating state intervention to prevent social hardship.
CDU foreign policy was forged by the first federal chancellor, Konrad Adenauer, and is based on strong support for Nato and European integration. Under Helmut Kohl, the party presided over German reunification.
Angela Merkel has been the chancellor since 2005 and chairman of the CDU. Her current election campaign is focused on cutting income tax, raising value-added tax, and prioritising efforts to pull Germany out of the economic crisis by implementing economic reforms.
She has called for economic growth by creating more jobs and combating unemployment, increasing investment in education, returning to nuclear energy as alternative energy is been developed and reducing energy prices for consumers.
She is a strong advocate of maintaining German involvement in Nato's Afghanistan mission.
|Social Democratic Party (SPD)
The SPD finds its roots in the formative workers' movements of the second half of the 19th century.
|Steinmeier wants to create four million jobs in the next 10 years [GALLO/GETTY]
It became the biggest political party in Germany during the Weimar Republic in 1919-33, before being banned by the Nazi regime.
In 1959, the SPD outlined its political course in the Godesberg Program, changing from a "party of the working class to a party of the people."
Its politics became more moderate as its opposition to membership of Nato was dropped, and it accepted the "social market economy" strategy.
Positioned centre-left, the SPD has put forward chancellors Willy Brandt, Helmut Schmidt and Gerhard Schroeder.
Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the current vice chancellor and German foreign minister since 2005, is the candidate for the SPD.
He has served under chancellor Gerhard Schroeder since 1999.
On the economy, Steinmeier has pledged to enact a national minimum wage of 7.50 euros, and to create four million jobs within the next 10 years. He has also focused on improving public healthcare.
Like his main political rival going into the elections, Steinmeier also believes in keeping German troops in Afghanistan.
Franz Müntefering is the current SPD chairman.
The party has its roots in the environmental and peace movements of the 1970s, but the women's and civil rights movements also contributed many followers.
|Juergen Trittin wants to raise the German minimum wage [EPA]
Established in 1980, the party put environmental issues at the top of the agenda and emphasised pacifism, and opposed nuclear weapons and Nato membership.
This political alliance has placed gender equality issues at the top of their national agenda.
In 1998, they became junior partners in a coalition with the SPD and started addressing the full spectrum of political issues.
Juergen Trittin, the former environment minister, is the Greens leading candidate and has campaigned against returning to nuclear energy.
He advocates the creation of a million new jobs and increasing social welfare.
He has also called for tightening international financial regulation, fighting tax havens, and urged a slow withdrawal of German troops from Afghanistan.
The Alliance 90/Greens party has also called for investing in clean energy and education.
The party seeks to raise the minimum wage to 7.50 euros and has pushed for for an environmentally-safe "New Deal" to pull Germany out of recession.
|Free Democratic Party (FDP)
|Guido Westerwelle has been the FDP leader since 2001 [GALLO/GETTY]
The party comprises liberals who advocate free market economics and reduced government intervention.
They have rejected excessive state regulation.
Formed in 1948, the FDP found support mainly among the self-employed, small town conservatives and some farmers, but it later broadened its appeal to white-collar workers.
The FDP often represents the interests of small and medium-sized businesses, and is frequently branded the party of high-income earners.
It never gained enough influence to challenge the CDU or the SPD, but until the 1990s, the FDP was a junior partner in almost every federal government, but it has not been in power since then.
The FDP concentrates mainly on calling for economic reform and favours more far-reaching reforms than either the SPD or CDU.
Guido Westerwelle has been the FDP leader since 2001. He has called for tax cuts and a free-market system.
While he does support Germany's deployment in Afghanistan, he has stood against compulsory military service.
He supports the use of nuclear energy and has argued against national minimum wages.
The Left Party, a new political alliance formed in 2005, combines the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS) with the new Labour and Social Justice Party (WASG) to become champion of social causes and the "little man".
|Oskar Lafontaine is staunchly against Germany's Afghan mission [GALLO/GETTY]
Based in the country's east, the party has its roots in the SED, the former Communist Party of East Germany.
After reunification, the SED reformed itself and became the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS), but for critics, the new party did little to distinguish itself from the old.
For several years, the Left Party has been enjoying a resurgence. The Left Party mostly gained its base from disaffected former members of the SPD.
Oskar Lafontaine, the highly popular co-chair of the party and a former German finance minister (SPD), believes in higher social welfare payments and a national minimum wage of 10 euros.
He is staunchly against Germany's military involvement in Afghanistan and has called for an immediate withdrawal.
On the economy, Lafontaine wants to increase taxes for the "rich".