Four German political parties were positioning themselves to enter coalition talks on Monday, just hours after a final vote count showed a narrow victory for the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) over the country’s conservative alliance.
The SPD captured 25.7 per cent, its best result in years, while the conservative CDU/CSU bloc of outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel fell to a record low of 24.1 per cent after her four consecutive terms in office.
Both main candidates to be the next German chancellor, Olaf Scholz of the SPD and Armin Laschet of the Christian Democrats (CDU), say they want to form the next government.
Scholz has a better chance of doing so, but the German constitution does provide for the party with the second-largest vote share to head a government.
“Three parties have been strengthened, therefore this is the visible mandate that the voters have formulated,” Scholz said at SPD headquarters on Monday, referring to his SPD, the Greens and the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP).
The CDU/CSU bloc has “not only lost, but they have received the message from voters that they should go into opposition,” Scholz said.
The three parties that Scholz wants in his coalition have “enough intersections” to form a government and coalition talks should proceed with “pragmatism and calm;” he added.
Laschet was fighting for political survival on Monday, with commentators saying that support for his leadership was waning fast within the ranks of the conservative bloc after a troubled campaign that saw it slump to its worst-ever result.
In order to avoid another grand coalition like the one Merkel currently leads, either the CDU/CSU or the SPD will have to convince both the Greens and the FDP – which have very different political agendas – to join them in a three-way coalition.
The two smaller parties took took 14.8 per cent and 11.5 per cent of the vote, respectively.
Representatives of the Greens and the FDP were expected to come together to find common ground ahead of formal coalition talks with the two larger parties.
The next Cabinet will be the first in 16 years not led by Merkel. The transition, which could take weeks or even months, is a historical one.
Also on Monday, the leader of the far-left Die Linke (The Left) party said its failure to clear the 5-per-cent hurdle to gain seats in parliament was a “severe defeat.”
Party leader Susanne Hennig-Wellsow said the party’s election result of 4.9 per cent of the vote was a “bitter blow” that meant that it would have to reinvent itself in opposition during the next four years.
Despite its poor result, the party will be able to send lawmakers to the Bundestag after receiving three so-called “direct mandates,” which is when a party wins the largest vote share in a constituency.