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Merkel's coalition suffers a setback in Germany

Merkel's coalition suffers a setback in Germany; horse-trading ahead.


BERLIN, Germany (AP) — Even as forecasts showed the long-time leader's party heading for its worst-ever performance in a national election, Germany's centre-left Social Democrats and departing Chancellor Angela Merkel's centre-right coalition both claimed Sunday to lead the country's next government.

The result looked to set Europe's largest economy on a path toward protracted negotiations to create a new government, with Merkel serving as a caretaker until a successor is sworn in. The most likely path to power for both leading contenders would be a three-party governing coalition with two opposition parties that have historically been ideological rivals — the environmentalist Greens and the business-friendly Free Democrats.

Only one of the three contenders to follow Merkel, who declined to run for a fifth term, appeared pleased after the result on Sunday: the Social Democrats' Olaf Scholz, the departing vice chancellor and finance minister who helped his party recover from a years-long downturn.

The expected outcomes, according to Scholz, are “a very clear mandate to guarantee that we put together a decent, pragmatic government for Germany right now.”

A partial count based on 267 of the 299 constituencies found the Social Democrats in the lead with 25.7 per cent of the vote to the Union bloc's 24.6 per cent. In previous German national elections, no victorious party had received less than 31% of the vote.

According to the partial count, the Greens, who ran for the chancellery for the first time with co-leader Annalena Baerbock, were in third place with 14.1 per cent of the vote, while the pro-business Free Democrats received 11.5 per cent.


Armin Laschet, the governor of North Rhine-Westphalia who outmanoeuvred a more popular candidate to win Merkel's Union bloc candidacy, had failed to energize the party's base and had made a number of mistakes.

“Of course, this is a vote loss that isn't pretty,” Laschet said of the results, which appeared to be on track to beat the Union's previous low point of 31% in 1949. “No one had an incumbent bonus in this election,” he continued, referring to Merkel's departure after 16 years in power.

“We will do everything we can to create a government under the Union's leadership,” Laschet assured supporters, “because Germany now needs a future coalition that modernizes our country.”

The same two parties will be courted by both Laschet and Scholz. The Greens have historically supported the Social Democrats, while the Free Democrats have supported the Union, although neither party has ruled out the possibility of moving the other way.

The second alternative was to resurrect Merkel's outgoing "grand coalition" of the Union and the Social Democrats, which ruled Germany for 12 of Merkel's 16 years in office, but after years of political wrangling, there was little enthusiasm for it.

“Everyone believes that... this ‘grand alliance' is doomed to fail in the future, regardless of who is in charge of the top two positions,” Laschet added. “We require a fresh start.”

Christian Lindner, the leader of the Free Democrats, looked eager to rule, saying that his party and the Greens should take the initiative.

“About 75% of Germans did not vote for the next chancellor's party,” Lindner stated in a post-election debate on public broadcaster ZDF with leaders from all parties. “As a result, it would be prudent... for the Greens and Free Democrats to communicate with one another first to frame all that follows.”

“The climate problem... is the primary issue of the future administration, and that is the basis for any negotiations... even if we aren't completely pleased with our result,” Baerbock stressed.

While the Greens' support increased from the previous election in 2017, they had higher hopes for Sunday's result.

Two parties were ruled out of running for Germany's next government. The Left Party was predicted to receive only 4.7 per cent of the vote, and it was on the verge of being booted out of parliament completely. The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) was predicted to receive 10.6% of the vote, despite the fact that no one else wanted to cooperate with them. This was roughly 2 percentage points lower than when it was initially introduced into parliament in 2017.

Merkel, who has received praise for guiding Germany through numerous big crises, will be a difficult leader to replace. Her replacement will be in charge of overseeing Germany's recovery from the coronavirus epidemic, which the country has so far weathered pretty successfully owing to large-scale rescue efforts.

When it comes to taxes and combating climate change, Germany's main parties have substantial disagreements.

Although the Greens support a harsher approach against China and Russia, foreign policy did not feature prominently in the campaign.

Lindner of the Free Democrats said it was "excellent news" that the next German government would be dominated by centrist parties, regardless of which parties constitute it.

“All those in Europe and beyond who were concerned about Germany's stability can clearly see: Germany will be steady regardless,” he added.

Scholz received an early congratulatory message from Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.

He stated on Twitter, "Spain and Germany will continue to work together for a stronger Europe and a fair and green recovery that leaves no one behind."

The Social Democrats appeared to be on track to retain the mayorship of Berlin, which they have controlled for the past two decades, in two regional elections held on Sunday. In the northeastern state of Mecklenburg Western-Pomerania, the party was likewise on track to win big.

Kirsten Grieshaber and Karin Laub of the Associated Press contributed to this story.

By GEIR MOULSON and FRANK JORDANS

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