Germany embarks on tricky search for post-Merkel government
Germany is embarking on a potentially lengthy search for its next government after the centre-left Social Democrats narrowly beat outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel’s centre-right bloc in an election that failed to set a clear direction for Europe’s biggest economy under a new leader.
Leaders of the parties in the newly elected parliament were meeting Monday to digest a result that saw Mrs Merkel’s Union bloc slump to its worst result in a national election, and appeared to put the keys to power in the hands of two opposition parties.
Both Social Democrat Olaf Scholz, who pulled his party out of a years-long slump, and Armin Laschet, the candidate of Mrs Merkel’s party who saw his party’s fortunes decline in a troubled campaign, laid a claim to leading the next government.
Mr Scholz is the outgoing vice chancellor and finance minister and Mr Laschet is the governor of Germany’s most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia.
Whichever of them becomes chancellor will do so with his party having won a smaller share of the vote than any of his predecessors.
Who gets the job looks likely to depend on the decision of the prospective junior partners, the environmentalist Greens and the business-friendly Free Democrats – parties that traditionally belong to rival ideological camps.
“Voters have spoken very clearly,” Mr Scholz said Monday.
“They strengthened three parties, the Social Democrats, the Greens and the Free Democrats, so this is the visible mandate the citizens of this country have given: these three parties should lead the next government.”
The only other option that would have a parliamentary majority is a repeat of the “grand coalition” of the Union and Social Democrats.
That is the grouping that has run Germany for 12 years of Mrs Merkel’s 16-year tenure and has often been marred by squabbling, but this time it would be under Mr Scholz’s leadership with Mrs Merkel’s bloc as junior partner. There is little appetite for that, however.
Mr Scholz said the Union “received the message from citizens that they should no longer be in government, but go into opposition”.
Mrs Merkel’s outgoing government will remain in office until a successor is sworn in, a process that can take weeks or months. She announced in 2018 that she would not seek a fifth term.
The Greens traditionally lean toward the Social Democrats and the Free Democrats toward the Union, but neither ruled out going the other way on Sunday night.
The Greens made significant gains in the election to finish third but fell far short of their original aim of taking the chancellery, while the Free Democrats improved slightly on a good result from 2017.
Final official results gave the Social Democrats 25.7% of the vote and the Union 24.1%. Four years ago, they won 20.5% and 32.9% respectively.
The Union, made up of Mr Laschet’s Christian Democratic Union and its Bavarian sister, the Christian Social Union, had never previously polled below 31% in a national parliamentary election.
The Greens took 14.8%, the Free Democrats 11.5% and the far-right Alternative for Germany 10.3% – a decline from the 12.6% it took to enter parliament for the first time in 2017.
The smallest party in the new parliament is the Left Party, which won just 4.9% of the vote.
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