German election live: Social Democrats edge ahead in chancellor race as CDU plunges to historic low

3 weeks ago

The two main rivals vying to succeed Angela Merkel as German chancellor have each said they will try to head the next government after early election results showed them neck-and-neck, kickstarting a scramble for potential coalition partners. So what happens next?

Germany’s chancellor is not directly elected but chosen through a vote in the Bundestag, the lower house of parliament, after a government has been formed. Merkel could remain in her post for weeks if not months while parties try to cobble together a coalition. AFP has put together this handy guide on how it all works:

Germany’s defence minister, the CDU’s Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, has lost her bid for a direct mandate in Saarland, the newspaper Frankfurter Rundschau is reporting. AKK, as she is widely known, won just 25.1 % of the vote, while her SPD rival, Josephine Ortleb garnered 36.9%. As top of the CDU’s party list in the state, of which she was once the premier, she could still enter the Bundestag.

AKK, who was once seen as Merkel’s successor, quit as leader of the CDU after a series of blunders that saw her lose standing within the party.

Germany has got its first federal transgender MP, after the Greens’ Tessa Ganserer won her race in Bavaria. Ganserer had already made history in 2018, when she became the first trans woman to serve in a state legislature.

Deborah Cole (@doberah)

Tessa Ganserer won her race in Germany's general election, making her the country's first trans MP. @AFP profiled her this month

September 26, 2021

In a referendum run parallel to the election, initial results show Berliners have voted resoundingly in favour of a plan to take thousands of housing units from large-scale landlords in a bid to preserve affordable housing in the city, where rents have shot up in recent years.

The vote is non-binding, Deutsche Welle reports, but it could force the city-state’s government to debate the proposal.

Christian Odendahl (@COdendahl)

In case you were wondering: the people of #Berlin have voted Yes to expropriating large housing firms in the city. 56% | 38% is the current split. Unlikely to change.

September 26, 2021


If you’re just joining us, here’s what you need to know so far:

The centre-left SPD and their chancellor candidate, Olaf Scholz, have a narrow lead with the latest projections showing them with 25.9% of the vote. Angela Merkel’s centre-right CDU party and their candidate, Armin Laschet, have sunk to a historic low in a federal election, with a projected 24.1 %.
The Greens, led by Annalena Baerbock, have secured their best result in a national poll, with early results putting it at 14.6% – in third place and ahead of the liberal FDP. The far-right AfD is set to enter parliament for the second time, on 10.5%. Once results are in, the parties will embark on “exploratory talks” to form a coalition government, with a three-way coalition considered the most likely at this point. Likely constellations include a so-called green-yellow-red “traffic light” coalition, with the SPD, Greens and FDP, or a “Jamaican” coalition of the CDU/CSU, Greens and FDP. Both Scholz and Laschet have insisted they will form the government, with Laschet pointing out that, “It hasn’t always been the case that the party in first place provides the chancellor.” The Greens will likely play kingmaker. Merkel will remain chancellor while coalition talks proceed - that could be a lengthy process, with talks lasting three months in 2017.

The far-right AfD has officially become the biggest party in Thüringen, in former East Germany, for the first time with 24% after all votes were counted. The SPD came in second on 23.4% and the CDU third on 16.9%:

Ulrike Franke (@RikeFranke)

This is bad, bad, bad. Yes, the AFD lost votes overall, but in Thüringen (East Germany) it got *the most votes of all parties*!

September 26, 2021

This chart shows how older voters have stuck with the centre-left SPD (red) and centre-right CDU (black), while younger voters have tended to vote in greater numbers for the Greens and the more socially liberal, low-tax loving FDP (yellow). Interestingly it also shows those in their middle years are more likely to vote for the far-right AfD (blue) than the over 70s and the 18 to 24-year-olds.

Patrick Wintour (@patrickwintour)

SPD & CDU attract older voters. Greens and liberal low tax FDP younger voters. Two parties for 2 different demographics.

September 26, 2021

Hello, this is Helen Livingstone taking over the blog from Jon Henley as Germany settles in for a long night of election results, with the SPD and their chancellor candidate, Olaf Scholz, holding a very narrow lead over Angela Merkel’s CDU and their candidate to replace her, Armin Laschet.

Updated at 6.27pm EDT

Angela Merkel's voting district won by SPD

In a sign of just how disastrous this election has been for the CDU/CSU, the voting district that has directly elected Angela Merkel in eight successive votes since 1990 has been won by the centre-left SPD:

Patrick Donahue (@patrickjdo)

#Merkel’s voting district is won by SPD

September 26, 2021

Kate Connolly

Some interesting analysis is emerging, compiled by Forschungsgruppe Wahlen:

56% of those who voted for the CDU/CSU have told German TV that Armin Laschet had a damaging effect on the party’s result, compared to 11% who said he had been a help, while 28% said his presence had made no difference. For the SPD, 70% of voters said Scholz helped his party to its result, whilst only 5% said he was damaging to the party, and 21% that he made no difference.

The analysis also showed that the SPD made big gains especially among older voters: 17% of SDP voters were under 30 (down two points on the previous 2017 election), 19% were between 30 and 44 (up three points), 27% were aged 45-59 (up six points) and 35% were over 60 (up 11 points).

Agence-France Presse has a handy guide to what happens next:

First, all parties embark on what are known as “exploratory talks”. In this initial phase, which has no time limit, there is nothing to stop the parties from all holding coalition talks in parallel - though tradition dictates that the biggest party invites smaller ones for discussions.

However, Armin Laschet, the chancellor candidate from Merkel’s centre-right CDU-CSU bloc, has said the conservatives would “do everything we can” to lead the next government, even after preliminary results put them a touch behind the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD).

SPD candidate Olaf Scholz, the country’s finance minister, also said voters wanted a change and for “the next chancellor to be called Olaf Scholz”. The Greens have called a party congress for 2 October during which they could decide with whom they would take up exploratory talks.

The pro-business FDP party, which like the Greens could play a kingmaker role, has said it has a preference for a coalition with the conservatives and the Greens, but a three-way alliance with the SPD and Greens remains on the table too.

On Monday, the parties will hold leadership meetings. The newly elected MPs from each party will also hold their first meetings next week, with the SPD and CDU-CSU planning to convene on Tuesday. The newly elected parliament must hold its inaugural session no later than 30 days after the election, on October 26.

If two or three parties agree in principle that they would like to form an alliance, they must then begin formal coalition negotiations, with various working groups meeting to thrash out policy issues.

At the end of these negotiations, the parties decide who will be in charge of which ministry and sign a coalition contract. This phase also has no time limit, with the outgoing government - Angela Merkel’s adminsitration - holding the fort in the meantime.

The parties then nominate who they would like to be chancellor before the official vote in the Bundestag.

Kate Connolly

In an interview with the evening news programme, shortly after his first beer of the evening at the SPD party headquarters, Olaf Scholz said he was confident his party had won the election and that the citizens of Germany had “sent a signal” that they didn’t want the CDU to form the next government.

Asked by the presenter how he hoped to win over the pro-business FDP since the left of his party would be against the alliance, he said the SPD was a lively ‘Volkspartei’, which would practice a “pragmatic form of politics” with a focus on “more respect in our society, modernising the society and... climate protection”.

Asked how could modernise Germany in coalition with a party which ruled out tax increases, Scholz said his plans depended on private investment - from expanding wind power, reforming the steel and cement sectos to the car industry.

Could he exclude the idea of forming a grand coalition again with the CDU/CSU, the scenario that occured in 2017 after months of wrangling? Scholz said the only reason it came to this last time round was because the negotiations between the various parties “did not go well”.

He said that because German voters had sent the message that they didn’t want the CDU in government, he would not contemplate a grand coalition. He said he would lead negotiation talks “with respect” so negotiations would be successful.

Reuter’s has a round-up of reactions from party leaders and candidates for the job of chancellor - and a brutal analysis from the editor of Germany’s biggest-selling newspaper:

Olaf Scholz, SPD candidate:

Many voters put their cross by the SPD because they want the next Chancellor of Germany to be called Olaf Scholz ... We are ahead in all the surveys now. It is an encouraging message and a clear mandate to make sure that we get a good, pragmatic government for Germany.

Armin Laschet, CDU/CSU candidate:

This is a neck and neck race. We will do everything to form a conservative-led government, because Germany needs a future-oriented coalition that modernizes our country. This is not about getting an arithmetic majority but bringing together different political positions to make a coalition. I am ready for that.

Annalena Baerbock, Greens candidate:

We wanted more. We didn’t manage that, partly because of mistakes at the start of the campaign - mistakes I made. We were elected by very many young people in this country; among them we are the clear leading force. We need massive investment in our country. Our suggestion is to expand debt: break with an investment rule so that investment can take place.

Christian Lindner, FDP leader:

The election result is not easy to read. None of the former popular parties has more than 25-26% of the vote. So 75% of Germans didn’t vote for the party that will provide the next chancellor. Perhaps the Greens and the FDP should talk to each other first. The biggest policy overlap is between the conservative bloc and the FDP. For us, the ideas of tax hikes, of softening the debt brake are not acceptable.

Julian Reichelt, editor of Bild tabloid:

A historic catastrophe for the CDU.

SDP extends narrow lead

At 10pm local time, the centre-left SPD’s narrow lead over its centre-right CDU/CSU rival continues to grow, according to both sets of projections by public broadcasters ARD and ZDF.

Based on an amalgam of exit polls and partial counts of polling station and postal ballots, ARD/Infratest now put finance minister Olaf Scholz’s party on 25.8% of the vote and 205 seats in the 730-seat Bundestag, against 24.2% and 195 seats for Armin Laschet’s CDU/CSU.

The same provisonal results give potential coalition partners the Greens 114 seats and the liberal FDP 91 MPs.

Updated at 4.10pm EDT

Kate Connolly

According to a poll published just now by the broadcaster ZDF, a majority of Germans (55%) would prefer government led by the centre-left SPD, compared to 36% for one headed by the CDU/CSU alliance.

This is more or less the opposite of the result after the same question was asked after the previous 2017 election, when 52% were in favour of a CDU-led government and 36% per cent for an SPD-led one.

This would be a turn-up for the books: the Berliner Zeitung newspaper reports that there’s a chance the conservative CDU/CSU’s candidate - and Angela Merkel’s favoured successor - Armin Laschet, might not win a seat in parliament (see 16.15 entry below for an explanation of how the fiendishly complicated German electoral system works).

Elizabeth Rushton (@emrshtn)

Some trivia: Armin Laschet might not make it into the Bundestag. He’s top of his party list in his home state, but CDU votes may not suffice to earn more seats beyond the direct candidates. Would mean he couldn’t lead the opposition if he’s not chancellor

September 26, 2021

The historian Helene von Bismarck gives her verdict:

Helene von Bismarck (@HeleneBismarck)

Too early to say what kind of coalition we will get in Germany. But 2 things seems clear already& I find them significant after the Corona crisis: high turnout & no gains for extremist parties. Our democracy is working and the Centre holds.
Right now, that matters most to me.

September 26, 2021

Updated at 3.21pm EDT

The gap between the SPD and CDU/CSU continues to widen as official results from polling stations come in and postal votes are tallied.

The lastest projections from the two public broadcasters ARD and ZDF at just after 9pm local time both put the centre-left party ahead, one by 1.2 percentage points (25.7% to 24.5%) and the other by 1.5 points (26% to 24.5%).

That would give the centre-left party 204 seats in the 730-seat Bundestag and CDU/CSU 197.

Updated at 3.26pm EDT

In a wide-ranging opinion piece, broadcaster Deutsche Welle’s editor-in-chief Manuela Kasper-Claridge says the days of caution and marginal compromise characterised by Germany’s previous grand coalition between the CU/CSU and SPD are over and German voters want change.

Major 21st-century challenges such as the climate crisis, the digital revolution and modernsing Germany can “only be solved in cooperation with the smaller parties - in all conceivable coalitions, the Greens and the FDP will have a big say. Nothing will work without them — and that’s a good thing,” she said.

The size of the Greens’ vote share shows “German voters are worried about climate change” and means the party will undoubtedly “go into the coalition talks with plenty of self-confidence, and demanding an expensive dowry”.

But Germans also care about how much major change will cost, Kasper-Claridge said - which is why the liberal FDP will also have to be involved. “They see themselves as the great deregulators, and could torpedo some of the Greens’ wishes,” she warned.

If that means coalition talks are going to be tough, and their outcome as yet uncertain, what is very clear is “the scale of the CDU/CSU’s defeat. You can’t sugarcoat such a dramatic fall, their worst result since 1949. After 16 years in government, the so-called ‘Union’ of CDU and CSU, is ripe for opposition.”

Updated at 3.12pm EDT

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