Merkel’s Party Loses Close Race With Social Democrats In German Election

Europe and the U.S. anxiously awaited Germany’s national elections on Sunday, which reflected the end of outgoing Chancellor Angel Merkel’s lengthy time as the head of the largest member-state of the European Union. 

The center-left Social Democrats won a narrow victory over Merkel’s center-right Union bloc. Olaf Scholz was the candidate of the Social Democrats and is the outgoing national vice chancellor and finance minister. Scholz said the win was a “very clear mandate” that his party should put together a “good, pragmatic government.”

Merkel is expected to remain with the Union bloc until a successor is sworn in. The party said it plans to work with some of the many smaller German political parties to form a government.

Election officials reported on Monday that the Social Democrats got 25.9 percent of the total national vote while the Union bloc pulled 24.1 percent. The total received by the Social Democrats was lower than any winning party has ever had in a German national election.

The Union bloc’s candidate, Armin Laschet, had trouble building enthusiasm inside the party for his campaign and suffered painful missteps in the national media’s eyes. He said that the loss “isn’t pretty” but that the party did not have the average advantage of being an incumbent since Merkel is retiring after 16 years as chancellor.

Scholz and Laschet will seek favor with two smaller parties, the Greens and the Free Democrats, to form a coalition government. The environmentalist Greens received 14.8 percent of the national vote, and the capitalist Free Democrats polled 11.5 percent. 

While the Free Democrats usually have aligned with the Union bloc and the Greens with the Social Democrats, the possibility of a “grand coalition” is motivating both significant parties to weigh their options carefully.

Laschet hints at a “real new beginning” while the Free Democrats appear more interested in pulling in the Greens to govern from a more leftist orientation.

The Left Party is the most socialist of the national parties and took only 4.9 percent of the vote, risking its position in Parliament altogether. The right-wing Alternative for Germany party took 10.3 percent of the vote, about 2 points more than it received in its first year in the Parliament, 2017.