Germany’s center-left Social Democrats have secured a narrow victory in the country’s general elections, the final results show, ending 16 years of conservative rule led by Angela Merkel.
The Social Democrats said they had received a “clear mandate” to form the next federal administration, having last led the country in 2005.
With the last of 299 constituencies counted early on Monday, the final results had the Social Democrats with 25.9 percent of the vote, while Merkel’s CDU-led Conservative bloc lagged behind with 24.5. percent.
The final advantage comes after exit polls suggested a melee race between the CDU and the Social Democrats led by Olaf Scholz, who were in third place in opinion polls as recently as a few weeks ago.
Scholz, who has served as finance minister since 2018, will still need to form a coalition if he wants to lead the next government, a process that could take months, and Merkel will remain as chancellor until the new administration is confirmed. Although they are the largest single party in terms of votes, the Social Democrats have fewer paths to power because their preferred coalition partners, the Free Democrats, appear to have finished a distant fourth.
“This is a great victory,” Scholz said earlier in the evening as the result became clearer. “The voters have made a clear decision and we are ahead. We will wait for the final results and then we will get to work. “
The SPD, which has suffered greatly as Merkel’s junior partner in a loveless coalition for the past eight years, has vowed to break away and try to form a coalition with two smaller parties. This would give postwar Germany its first tripartite coalition, although the presence of at least one unwanted bedmate has raised concerns about the stability and longevity of such an alliance.
Meanwhile, Merkel’s CDU appears to have suffered the worst defeat in its history, falling to second place and ignominiously out of power for the first time in 19 years, with 24 percent of the vote, down from 32.9 percent in the last four elections. years ago. Their mistake-prone candidate, Armin Laschet, North Rhine-Westphalia’s uncharismatic prime minister of state, blew a promising early lead in the polls with a series of embarrassing mistakes that garnered considerable attention, in an otherwise election campaign. unspectacular that saw the candidates debate several first: problems of the world.
In a race he could lose, given that his party has ruled Germany for 52 of the last 72 years, Laschet’s fan errors ranged from being caught on camera laughing as German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier delivered a solemn tribute to the fatal flood victims. , even awkwardly even the simple act of voting on Sunday because he did not correctly fold his ballot, allowing both polling station workers and photographers to see that he had voted for himself.
“We cannot be happy with these results,” said Laschet, who however hinted in post-election interviews that he would still be trying to form his own center-right coalition. “But we knew that going into it without having the starting bonus this time would be an open, tough and close race.”
The Greens, who peaked early and even held a slight lead over the Conservatives for about a month in late April and early July, appear to have finished with 15 percent, a disappointing result after a campaign dominated by their distinctive theme, the weather. crisis. This is a surprising 10 point decline from its previous peak, which collapsed due to minor discrepancies in candidate Annalena Baerbock’s CV. However, it is almost double the 8.9 percent they won in 2017 and should be enough to help the party form a coalition with the SPD, with a third partner yet to be decided.
Scholz will have little trouble getting the Greens to join his center-left coalition, after the two parties made clear late in the campaign that they wanted to renew their “red-green” coalition from 1998 to 2005. But With just 40 percent of the vote, the SPD and the Greens will need a third partner, and that’s where things will get tricky.
The projected lead is in line with exit polls that saw a shocking defeat for German Chancellor Merkel by Social Democrat Olaf Scholz, who has risen to first place from third in a dramatic election campaign in recent weeks.
However, without a majority of the votes, neither will be able to uniquely form the government and pave the way for a three-way alliance led by Scholz or the conservatives in power.
His preference would be to ally himself with the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP), who are projected to finish fourth at 13 percent and are eager to return to power after spending the past eight years in opposition. . As much as the FDP prefers to rule alongside the CDU, there appears to be no path to power on the conservative side, as the two parties together have only 37 percent.
So the most likely outcome is that the SPD (party color red), the Greens (green) and the FDP (yellow) will forge a coalition called a “semaphore” over the next four to eight weeks. If the FDP demands too much, or resists the expected tax increase proposals from the two left-wing parties, the SPD and the Greens could, in theory, turn to the far-left party Linke, which is predicted to finish in sixth place. with just 5 percent of the vote. But both parties have expressed doubts about the so-called “red-red-green” coalition with a party that has its origins in the Communist SED party and has called for the dissolution of NATO.
Support for the far-right Alternative for Germany party fell to just over 10 percent on Sunday, down from 13.3 percent four years ago.