SPD narrowly wins the federal election against Merkel’s CDU, but uncertainty about the next chairman remains
By Sugam Pokharel, Jennifer Deaton, Helen Regan, Frederik Pleitgen and Ivana Kottasová, CNN
The left-wing Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) will start negotiations on a governing coalition after preliminary results have shown that the party won just under the most seats in parliament after the general election on Sunday.
In all 299 constituencies in Germany, the SPD won 25.7% of the vote and defeated the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), the right-wing conservative party of the outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel. which, according to the Federal Returning Officer, recorded record losses of 24.1%.
But there is still uncertainty about who will be Germany’s next leader. Both the SPD and the CDU with their coalition partner, the Christian Social Union (CSU), want to begin coalition negotiations to form a new government.
The close result means that two smaller parties – the Greens with 14.8% of the vote and the liberal FDP with 11.5% – will be the likely kingmakers.
“After possibly lengthy ‘exploratory talks’, these two parties will either join forces to bring Olaf Scholz (SPD leader) or – somewhat less likely – Armin Laschet (CDU / CSU) into the Chancellery,” said the German expert Holger Schmieding, chief economist of the Berenberg Bank.
Merkel, who has cemented her position as one of the most successful politicians in the world for over 16 years, will remain in office until a coalition agreement is negotiated – and that could take months.
After Merkel’s election victory in September 2017, it took more than five months for a government to be formed. Should this situation repeat itself, the new government would not be formed until after Christmas and Merkel would replace Helmut Kohl as the longest-serving Chancellor in post-war Germany.
“Traffic light coalition”
Although the preliminary count gives the SPD a small lead over its fiercest rivals, the results mean a significant improvement for the party, which received 20.5% of the vote in the last election in 2017.
Scholz said this proved that German voters wanted him to be the next chancellor.
“Many citizens have put their cross next to the SPD because they want a change of government and also because they want the next chancellor of this country to be Olaf Scholz,” he said in his party headquarters.
On Monday he confirmed that he would strive for a coalition with the Greens and the FDP, which the German press calls “Ampel”, based on the official colors of the three parties.
“It is very clear that you can derive a government mandate, a government that is sustainable and supported by the winning parties, including the SPD. These are the Greens and the FDP. And that’s why we will try to forge in this direction, ”said Scholz.
The 63-year-old politician has been Vice Chancellor and German Finance Minister in Merkel’s grand coalition since 2018, which has given him increased visibility in Germany’s economic response to the Covid 19 pandemic.
In contrast, CDU boss Laschet told the supporters that his party could “not be satisfied with this result,” although the end result was still unclear.
“We can foresee that there could be a three-party government,” he said, adding that his party would “do whatever it takes to try to build a coalition.”
Laschet added that the CDU had “received a mandate against a left-wing government”.
While both main parties rejected another coalition government, Laschet hopes to persuade the Greens and the FDP to work with him instead of the SPD and to form a “Jamaica coalition” party colors.
The CDU had campaigned for a message of stability for the country after Merkel, who had been a stable couple for almost 16 years, resigned. But she is now coming to terms with what she called herself, a bitter night of losses. Merkel’s own seat in the north-east of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania has been tipped over to the Social Democrats after the outgoing Chancellor’s 31 years.
Merkel’s constituency switched to Anna Katharina Kassautzki, a 27-year-old who works at the University of Greifswald.
Kassautzki told CNN that Merkel was leaving big footsteps. “She did a lot for the constituency here and I think she was often a strong chancellor and a role model for us – especially for young girls,” said Kassautzki.
Merkel has shown that “women can also be in politics, women can also have power,” added Kassautzki. “Simply creating such visibility was very important.”
Meanwhile, Greens leader Annalena Baerbock said her party had “waged a campaign like we have never seen in this country – around the clock, until last night, the last second”.
Environmental and economic concerns have emerged as key campaign issues, the former fueled by the deadly floods that devastated parts of Germany this summer.
Baerbock attributes the success of her party to young and new voters. “This dynamic from the marketplaces, from so many [people] who joined our party in recent years has led to this best result in history, ”she said.
But Baerbock added that the party had “wanted more” and had not gotten better, partly because of its mistakes in the election campaign. The Greens had great ambitions in the vote, and some polls at the beginning of the year had shown them that they had a chance of victory. When they announced that Baerbock would run for chancellor, it was the first time the party had put forward an official candidate for office.
“The Greens can be happy that their results have improved since the last election cycle, but they have definitely not lived up to expectations,” said Sudha David-Wilp, deputy head of the Berlin office of the German Marshall Find of the United States.
“Baerbock didn’t hit the moment. At one point the party was leading, there were much greater expectations of it, ”added David-Wilp.
The AfD’s top candidate, Alice Weidel, looked brave after polls showed a decline in support for the far-right party. According to preliminary official results, the count stands at 10.3% of the vote, up from 12.6% in 2017.
“We are in the double-digit range, we have been able to prevail,” she said, according to Reuters. “This claim that we would leave parliament after one legislative period has completely failed and we are very, very happy.”
David-Wilp said the far right’s losses were likely due to the party’s performance during its first term in parliament. “Four years ago there was definitely a hype when the AfD became the biggest opposition force in the Bundestag, but they definitely had a lot of disputes that didn’t help the party’s development, and now if you look at the landscape they have” it seems to be more of a regional party in the former east, ”she said.
“We will miss you”
Robin Fugmann, 20, an ardent Scholz supporter, told CNN that he was delighted with the results so far.
“It’s really an amazing result, people believe in Olaf Scholz, people believe that Armin Laschet really cannot lead this country,” he said. “So we really have a mandate to run a new government – I hope we will. And first of all we will celebrate, because that is a really great result. “
Deborah Piraba, a 27-year-old law student and Democrat of the Young Christian Union, told CNN at CDU headquarters that the results were “disappointing”, but nothing was lost yet.
“We have to remember that we have 16 years behind us with Angela Merkel, of whom I am a big fan. I’m really sad that she is leaving the office, ”she said. “We call her Mutti (Mama), she knew how to talk to people and has the connection to people and she has done so much for Germany. That made her so special to compare her to other politicians. I will also miss your sense of humor. “
The CNN Wire
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CNN’s Salma Abdelaziz, Nadine Schmidt, Stephanie Halasz and Laura Smith-Spark contributed to the coverage and writing.