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German general election: Social Democrats narrowly beat Angela Merkel’s party as coalition talks begin

Leaders of the parties in the newly elected German parliament are meeting today to digest the result

Germany is embarking on a potentially lengthy search for its next government.

It comes after the centre-left Social Democrats narrowly beat Chancellor Angela Merkel’s centre-right bloc in an election that failed to set a clear direction for Europe’s biggest economy under a new leader.

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Christian Democratic Union (CDU) leader and Chancellor candidate Armin Laschet (L) adresses the audience on stage at the CDU headquarters after the estimates were broadcast on television in Berlin. Right is board member of Germany’s conservative Christian Democratic Union party Silvia Breher and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. (image: John MacDougall/AFP via Getty Images)

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At a glance: 5 key points

  • Merkel’s Union bloc slumped to its worst result in a national election and appeared to put the keys to power in the hands of two opposition parties
  • Both Social Democrat Olaf Scholz, who pulled his party out of a years-long slump, and Armin Laschet, the candidate of Merkel’s party who saw his party’s fortunes decline in a troubled campaign, laid a claim to leading the next government
  • Scholz is the outgoing vice chancellor and finance minister and Laschet is the governor of Germany’s most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia
  • Whichever of them becomes chancellor will do so with his party having won a smaller share of the vote than any of his predecessors
  • Who gets the job looks likely to depend on the decision of the prospective junior partners, the environmentalist Greens and the business-friendly Free Democrats - parties that traditionally belong to rival ideological camps
Social Democrats (SPD) candidate for Chancellor Olaf Scholz delivers a press statement at the party’s headquarters in Berlin on September 27, one day after general elections (image: Odd Adersen/AFP via Getty Images)

What’s been said

"Voters have spoken very clearly," Scholz said Monday.

"They strengthened three parties, the Social Democrats, the Greens and the Free Democrats, so this is the visible mandate the citizens of this country have given: these three parties should lead the next government."

Background

The only other option that would have a parliamentary majority is a repeat of the "grand coalition" of the Union and Social Democrats.

That is the grouping that has run Germany for 12 years of Merkel’s 16-year tenure and has often been marred by squabbling, but this time it would be under Scholz’s leadership with Merkel’s bloc as junior partner. There is little appetite for that, however.

Scholz said the Union "received the message from citizens that they should no longer be in government, but go into opposition".

Merkel’s outgoing government will remain in office until a successor is sworn in, a process that can take weeks or months. She announced in 2018 that she would not seek a fifth term.

Final official results gave the Social Democrats 25.7% of the vote and the Union 24.1%. Four years ago, they won 20.5% and 32.9% respectively.

The Greens took 14.8%, the Free Democrats 11.5% and the far-right Alternative for Germany 10.3% - a decline from the 12.6% it took to enter parliament for the first time in 2017.

The smallest party in the new parliament is the Left Party, which won just 4.9% of the vote.

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