Social Democrats win German elections by slimmest margins

With more focus on Germany’s election results on Monday, no party won a decisive majority, but the loser was clear: Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats.

After 16 years in power under Ms Merkel, they have seen their share of the vote collapse by nearly nine points, receiving just 24.1 per cent of the vote. It was the worst show for the party in its history, and the elections heralded the end of an era for Germany and Europe.

The Social Democratic Party defeated Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union by 1.6 percentage points, according to preliminary official results published early Monday. Its candidate, Olaf Schultz, insisted the party get five points from 2017 – giving them 25.7 percent of the vote – giving them a mandate to form the next government.

It would likely take at least three parties to form a government, and both the Social Democrats and the Christian Democrats had been planning competing talks to do so.

Already on Monday, Germany saw the beginning of a political situation, as both parties sought to woo partners for a possible government. But the top potential partners, the eco-greens and the business-friendly Liberal Democrats, decided they would talk together first.

Christian Lindner, head of the Liberal Democrats, said his party and the Greens, which are more polarized on key issues around tax and renewable energy, needed to see if they could find a “progressive center” to move forward with before. Have conversations with any other partners.

The process of forming a new government could take weeks, if not months, of bargaining. That would leave Europe’s largest democracy in limbo at a critical moment as the continent still struggles to recover from the pandemic, and France – Germany’s partner at the heart of Europe – faces divisive elections next spring.

On Monday morning, France’s Minister of State for European Affairs, Clément Bonn, told France 2 TV that Germany had prioritized “a form of moderation, stability and continuity”.

“It is in the French interest that there be a strong German government quickly,” he said, expressing confidence that France and Germany will remain close partners, no matter what alliance is created. He said he viewed the major parties as “committed and comfortable supporters of Europe”.

For more than a decade, Ms. Merkel has been not only Chancellor of Germany, but also effectively the leader of Europe. She led her country and the continent through successive crises, and in the process helped Germany become the leading power in Europe for the first time since World War II.

Cheers erupted at SPD headquarters when the polls were announced early Sunday evening. Soon, fans applauded and chanted “Olav! Olaf!” as their candidate, Olaf Schultz, took to the stage to address the crowd.

“People selected the SPD fund because they want there to be a change of government in this country and because they want the next chancellor named Olaf Schultz,” he said.

The campaign has proven to be the most volatile in decades. Armin Laschet, Merkel’s Christian Democrat candidate, was long seen as the frontrunner until a series of blunders compounded by his unpopularity eroded his party’s advance. Mr. Schulz was fully calculated before his steady personality led his party to an impressive 10-point comeback. The Green Party, which briefly topped the polls early on, did not live up to expectations, but scored its best result ever.

Mr Laschet appeared at his party headquarters an hour after polls closed, declaring the outcome “unclear” and vowing to try to form a government even if his party came second.

The progressive and green greens made big gains over the 2017 election, but failed to get a viable chance at the chancellery.

On the outer edge of the political spectrum, support for the far-right Alternative for Germany, or AfD, appeared virtually unchanged, while the Left Party appeared to hover on the 5 percent threshold needed to win seats in parliament.

Aurelien Briden Contribute to the preparation of reports.

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