We predicted a close election, but not at this point. It is a snatch victory that the Social Democrat Olaf Scholz (SPD) won on Sunday evening in Germany over his opponent, the Christian Democrat Armin Laschet (CDU-CSU). The two candidates who were disputing the succession of Angela Merkel arrived in a pocket handkerchief. So much so that, on Sunday evening, for the first time in the country’s recent history, the two main candidates claimed the right to form a government coalition.
From the start of the evening, Olaf Scholz claimed victory as an exit poll gave the SPD a very slight lead and another gave it tied with the CDU-CSU. Arrived a few points behind, Armin Laschet also claimed the right to start negotiations. This would not be a first since the German Chancellor is elected by a coalition bringing together a majority of elected officials, regardless of which party comes out on top. In 1969, the Social Democrat Willy Brandt had thus come to power, while his party had come behind the Christian Democrats.
If, at the headquarters of the SPD, one wore the smile of victory, the disappointment was perceptible among the supporters of Armin Laschet. His party recorded the worst result in its history on Sunday, losing more than 8 points since the 2017 election. On the contrary, to everyone’s surprise, Angela Merkel’s Finance Minister Olaf Scholz won more than 5 points to a party said to have been in decline for at least 15 years.
“The Germans voted for change […] they want more respect in this country, an industrial strategy and better protection of the environment, ”said Olaf Scholz. Whatever the outcome of the negotiations that will begin this week, this election appears to be a personal victory for the former mayor of Hamburg unloved by his own party since he had been defeated in the presidency of his formation which is, he must be said, much more to the left than him.
Observers will have noted that, throughout the campaign, the one who untied the purse during the COVID-19 epidemic posed as a true continuator of Angela Merkel. A successful strategy since, according to pollsters, 1.4 million votes would have migrated from the CDU-CSU to the SPD. “We are a pragmatic party. We know how to govern and have everything it takes to do so, ”added Olaf Scholz.
Even if, on Sunday, his party was far from admitting defeat, this election appears on the contrary as a bitter defeat for Armin Laschet. This candidate of the old guard of the CDU, described by The mirror as “the incarnation of boredom in politics”, had snatched the candidacy from the very popular president of the CSU Markus Söder, clearly more to the right than him. Laschet will have accumulated blunders until the last minute since, before depositing his ballot in the ballot box, by an awkward gesture, he unfortunately let it be seen who he was voting for, which is illegal in Germany.
Germans voted for change […] they want more respect in this country, an industrial strategy and better protection of the environment
The disappointment was also noticeable among the Greens, whose candidate Annalena Baerbock led in all the polls at the start of the campaign. That was without counting her inflated CV and the accusations of plagiarism brought against her. The party nevertheless recorded one of the best results in its history (15%), even if “it is not what we had hoped for”, conceded the co-chairman of the party, Robert Habeck.
The liberals of the FPD, for their part, were pleased to finally find a double-digit result (11%). On Sunday evening, its leader, Christian Lindner, presented himself as a kingmaker. In 2017, Lindner refused to participate in Angela Merkel’s government. On Sunday, he didn’t seem to rule out any scenarios and said he wanted to talk to the Greens first. These two parties, which both represent an electorate from the privileged neighborhoods of large cities, could thus impose their conditions on one of the two major parties.
With 11% of the vote, the far-right AfD party, which entered Parliament in 2017 after the migrant crisis, loses a few points, but it is embedded in the political landscape. On the contrary, with 5% of the vote, the extreme left of Die Linke literally collapses. On Sunday, the party was uncertain whether it would be represented in Parliament. On the right, fears that he would participate in a coalition with the SPD therefore immediately evaporated.
A three-way coalition
With such a split vote, forming a coalition government will be more complicated than ever. In 2017, it had taken almost six months to achieve this. After several attempts, Angela Merkel had to resolve to ally with the SPD and form what is called in Germany a “Big Koalition”. This year, Olaf Scholz said that the SPD would refuse any alliance with the CDU-CSU. Sunday evening, Armin Laschet also declared that it was “not the thing to do”.
The only possibility will therefore be a three-party coalition. Nothing in the German Constitution prevents a party in second place from trying its luck. It is therefore not excluded that the SPD and the CDU-CSU embark on negotiations on their own. Most observers believe that Germany will not have a government before Christmas, even though the candidates pledged to act quickly on Sunday.
As postal voting peaked, on a glorious summer day in Berlin, queues outside polling stations were not uncommon. Some polling stations, like the one at the Ustinov school in Charlottenburg, even ran out of ballots. In some neighborhoods, we went to get them by bike. It must be said that in Berlin a referendum and the election of the district assembly were taking place at the same time.
The last Bundestag had 709 deputies. No one knew exactly how many next Sunday would have since the 598 elected representatives of the constituencies are added a variable number of deputies elected by the list system in order to balance the proportional vote obtained by each party.
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