Social Democrats beat Angela Merkel’s bloc
BERLIN – The center-left Social Democrats won the largest share of the vote in Germany’s national elections, beating the center-right Union bloc of outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel in a close race.
Election officials said Monday morning that a count of 299 constituencies showed the Social Democrats won 25.9% of the vote, compared to 24.1% for the Union bloc.
The Green ecologists came in third with 14.8% followed by the Free Pro-business Democrats with 11.5%. The two parties have already indicated that they are ready to discuss forming a three-way alliance with one of their two biggest rivals to form a government.
The far-right Alternative for Germany placed fourth in Sunday’s vote with 10.3%, while the Left party won 4.9%.
For the first time since 1949, the Danish minority SSW party was on the verge of winning a seat in parliament, officials said.
The result appeared to put Europe’s largest economy on the path of a long haggling to form a new government, while Merkel remains in an interim role until a successor is sworn in. A three-party government coalition, with two opposition parties that have traditionally been on rival ideological camps – the Green Greens and the pro-business-friendly Free Democrats – would be the most likely route to power for the two main candidates.
Only one of the three candidates for Merkel’s succession, who chose not to run for a fifth term, looked happy after Sunday’s vote: Social Democrat Olaf Scholz, the outgoing vice-chancellor and finance minister who brought his party out of a slump.
Scholz said the expected results were “a very clear mandate to now ensure that we put in place a good, pragmatic government for Germany”.
A partial count based on 267 of the 299 constituencies showed that the Social Democrats were in the lead with 25.7% of the vote against 24.6% for the Union bloc. No party winning a German national election had previously won less than 31% of the vote.
The Greens, who made their first candidacy for the chancellery with co-leader Annalena Baerbock, were in third place with 14.1%, while the pro-business Free Democrats had 11.5% of the vote, according to the partial count .
Armin Laschet, the governor of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia who foiled a more popular rival to secure Merkel’s Union bloc nomination, had struggled to motivate the party base and suffered a series missteps.
“Of course, this is a loss of voice that is not pretty,” Laschet said of the results which looked set to reduce by far the Union’s worst result by 31% in 1949. But it added that with Merkel’s departure after 16 years in power, “no one had an incumbent bonus in this election.”
Laschet told his supporters that “we will do our utmost to form a government under the leadership of the Union, because now Germany needs a coalition for the future which modernizes our country”.
Laschet and Scholz will court the same two parties. The Greens traditionally lean towards the Social Democrats and the Free Democrats towards the Union, but none have ruled out doing the opposite.
The other option was a repeat of the outgoing ‘grand coalition’ of the Union and the Social Democrats that ruled Germany for 12 of Merkel’s 16 years in power, but there was little obvious appetite for it. after years of government wrangling.
“Everyone thinks that (…) this ‘grand coalition’ is not promising for the future, no matter who is No. 1 and No. 2,” Laschet said. “We need a real new start.”
Free Democrat leader Christian Lindner appeared keen to rule, suggesting his party and the Greens should take the first step.
“About 75% of Germans did not vote for the Chancellor’s next party,” Lindner said during a post-election debate with all-party leaders on public broadcaster ZDF. “So it might be desirable (…) for the Greens and Free Democrats to talk to each other first to structure everything that follows.”
Baerbock insisted that “the climate crisis (…) is the major problem of the next government, and it is for us the basis of any discussion (…) even if we are not completely satisfied with our results”.
While the Greens have improved their support from the last election in 2017, they had higher expectations for Sunday’s vote.
Two parties were not in the running to join the next German government. The Left Party was to win only 4.7% of the vote and risked being completely expelled from parliament. The far-right Alternative for Germany – which no one else wants to work with – won 10.6%. It was around 2 percentage points lower than in 2017, when he first entered parliament.
Merkel, who has received praise for guiding Germany through several major crises, will not be an easy leader to follow. His successor will have to oversee the country’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, which Germany has so far resisted relatively well thanks to extensive rescue programs.
The main German parties have significant differences when it comes to taxation and the fight against climate change.
Foreign policy did not feature much in the campaign, although the Greens favor a tougher stance on China and Russia.
Regardless of which parties form the next German government, Lindner of the Free Democrats said it was “good news” that he would have a majority with the centrist parties.
“Anyone in Europe and beyond who was worried about Germany’s stability can now see: Germany will be stable anyway,” he said.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez sent his first congratulations to Scholz.
“Spain and Germany will continue to work together for a stronger Europe and for a fair and green recovery that leaves no one behind,” he wrote on Twitter.
In two regional elections also held on Sunday, the Social Democrats seemed ready to defend the post of mayor of Berlin they had held for two decades. The party was also on course for a solid victory in the northeastern state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania.
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Kirsten Grieshaber and Karin Laub contributed to this report.