BERLIN (AFP) – Chancellor Angela Merkel was given a rousing chorus of "Angie must save the world" Saturday at a last-ditch campaign push for votes as a survey released on the eve of German elections suggested a photo finish.
While the band belted out music, Merkel, smiling and relaxed, joked with supporters at her final stump stop in Berlin before rallying about 4,000 of her conservative troops to back her bid for another four years at the helm of Europe's top economy.
Underpinning her message that every vote counts, the last poll before Sunday's election showed her current coalition with the pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP) set for a down-to-the-wire finish with its rivals.
Their combined tally of 45 percent, to the 44 percent garnered by the leftist opposition taken together, may still not be enough however for her coalition to secure a majority under German electoral maths.
"Even with this small lead, the continued governing by this coalition remains uncertain," Gero Neugebauer, a political scientist from Berlin's Free University said.
Her main rivals, the Social Democrats (SPD) whose candidate to unseat Merkel, Peer Steinbrueck, held a competing rally in the western city of Frankfurt Saturday, scored 26 percent and their preferred allies, the ecologist Greens, tallied nine percent.
However Steinbrueck has ruled out a tie-up with the far-left Linke, which descended from former East German Communists and won nine percent in the latest Emnid poll for Sunday's Bild weekly newspaper.
Merkel appealed for a "strong mandate" in order to "continue to serve Germany, a country respected in Europe... a country that represents its interests in the world but is also the friend of many countries."
Later she was to head north to her Baltic coast constituency.
The 66-year-old Steinbrueck, a self-styled straight talking challenger has campaigned for more social justice, slamming what he calls Merkel's empty policy phrases as "stickers on empty bottles" and her "going around in circles".
Amid red balloons and flags, Steinbrueck answered final stump-day questions on his call for an across-the-board minimum wage, fair pay and care reform before addressing the crowd in a Frankfurt square.
After a gaffe-prone campaign, he has consistently struggled to chip away at Merkel's popularity or to score political points in a personality-driven campaign where a popular chancellor is running on her track record.
Steinbrueck, a former finance minister, has run into trouble during the campaign, most recently after a surly middle-finger front-page photo of him as a non-verbal reply to a question on his stumbling candidacy.
Although Merkel's steering of the eurozone crisis has prompted angry protests on the streets of Greece and other stricken countries, Germans approve of her steady course at their helm.
But her success in holding on to power with her current coalition turns on the precarious fate of her FDP junior partners who crashed out of Bavaria's state parliament last Sunday but would, according to the latest poll, narrowly scrape by nationally.
The FDP has mounted a homestretch plea to conservatives to "split" their ballot by casting constituency votes for Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) but giving the Free Democrats their second, or party, vote to save the coalition.
Merkel has sought to nix the tactical move, but if the smaller party is kicked out nationally, she will have to seek new partners -- most likely her party's traditional rivals the SPD, with whom she ruled in a previous 2005-09 "grand coalition".
A wild card are small parties that have flirted with the all-important five-percent hurdle for entry into parliament, especially the new eurosceptic Alternative for Germany (AfD) which scored four percent in the last poll.
Deutsche Bank analyst Nicolaus Heinen told Saturday's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper that he believed the party would win parliament seats and if it enjoyed considerable success it could "unsettle international investors" over any upcoming euro decisions.