German parties wrestle for Merkel’s crown after knife-edge election

Social Democrats and conservatives both claim mandate to lead government.,

BERLIN — Leaders of Germany’s two dominant political parties — the center-right Christian Democrats and the center-left Social Democrats — both laid claim to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mantel on Sunday after a too-close-to-call election that left the pair just fractions apart.

Early projections had the two camps in a virtual dead heat. According to public broadcaster ARD, the Social Democrats (SPD) lead slightly at 25.2 percent, with the Christian Democrats (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), at 24.6 percent.

Whatever the final result, the CDU under party leader and chancellor candidate Armin Laschet were on course for their worst result since World War II. Nonetheless, Laschet signaled he intended would try to build and lead a coalition government.

“We will do everything in our power to form a federal government under the leadership of the CDU-CSU, because Germany now needs a coalition for the future that will modernize Germany,” Laschet said in remarks at party headquarters in Berlin.

His main rival, SPD candidate Olaf Scholz, Germany’s finance minister, laid his own claim to the chancellery, saying that voters had given his party a clear signal.

“I think we can conclude from the result that we have a mandate to say we want to form the next government,” Scholz said. “The citizens want change.”

Just what kind of change was difficult to discern from Sunday’s early returns. The Greens placed third with 14.3 percent, according to projections, and the business-friendly Free Democrats finished fourth with 11.6 percent.

Both parties are expected to join the next coalition. The only question: Will they unite with the center-right or the center-left?

If the projections are borne out by the election results, building a new coalition is likely to prove a fraught process as neither of the two largest parties can boast a clear mandate. The SPD is likely to argue that the conservatives, who finished well below the 33 percent they won in 2017, have effectively been voted out of power.

Yet under Germany’s electoral system, such considerations are largely irrelevant. Unlike in many other European countries, the parties don’t need a mandate from the head of state to attempt to build a coalition, a tap that usually goes to the party that finishes first. Instead, it’s up to the parties themselves to form a government.

That means it could come down to the negotiating acumen of the leaders of the SPD and Christian Democrats in trying to convince the two smaller parties to join them.

During the campaign, the FDP made clear it would prefer to join a conservative-led coalition, even if the CDU-CSU placed second, while the Greens said they favored an alliance with the Social Democrats.

The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party was projected to win 10 or 11 percent of the vote. Both the CDU and SPD have ruled out including AfD in any coalition.

The Left, a far-left movement rooted in East Germany’s communist party, won 5 percent, according to the initial projections, placing it on the cusp of missing the threshold for entry into parliament.

If the party falls below 5 percent, it will be out. That would remove even the slim possibility of a leftist alliance between the SPD, the Greens and the Left, considerably narrowing the SPD’s options in the upcoming coalition talks.

Both the SPD and the conservatives have said they don’t want to renew their current coalition, which has governed Germany for the past eight years.

This article has been updated. Follow the German election results on POLITICO’s live blog.

Leave a Reply