Germany’s centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) have secured a narrow win over outgoing Angela Merkel’s conservatives in national elections, with chancellor candidate Olaf Scholz claiming a “clear mandate” to form the next government.
The SPD won 25.7 percent of the vote, ahead of 24.1 percent for Merkel’s centre-right CDU-CSU conservative bloc, according to provisional results from Sunday’s election released on Monday.
The Greens scooped 14.8 percent and the pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP) won 11.5 percent. The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) picked up 10.3 percent of the vote – down from the 12.6 percent it took to enter parliament for the first time in 2017.
Scholz, 63, said he aimed to build a coalition with the Greens and the FDP, saying Germans had voted to send Merkel’s conservatives into opposition after 16 years in power.
“What you see here is a very happy SPD,” Scholz told cheering supporters on Monday, at his party’s headquarters in the capital, Berlin.
“The voters have very clearly spoken … They strengthened three parties – the Social Democrats, Greens and FDP – and therefore that is the clear mandate the citizens of this country have given – these three should form the next government.”
The SPD’s recovery marks a tentative revival for centre-left parties in parts of Europe, following the election of Democrat Joe Biden as US president in 2020. Norway’s centre-left opposition party also won an election earlier this month.
Scholz eyes pre-Christmas coalition
Scholz, who was finance minister in Merkel’s outgoing “grand coalition” administration, said he aims to form a coalition before Christmas.
But his Christian Democrat rival Armin Laschet, 60, said he could still try to form a government despite leading the conservatives to their worst ever election result.
Merkel, who did not seek a fifth term as chancellor, will stay on in a caretaker role during the coalition negotiations that will set the future course of Europe’s largest economy.
Scholz on Monday shrugged off uncertainties amid the challenge from the conservatives.
“You should know that Germany always has coalitions, and it was always stable,” he said.
Al Jazeera’s Hoda Abdel-Hamid, reporting from Cologne, said there would be weeks, if not months, of “horse-trading” ahead as Scholz attempted to draw together an administration.
“It’s still all up in the air. Scholz is trying to form what he calls a ‘social-ecological-liberal’ coalition … but its early stages,” she said.
The Greens traditionally lean towards the Social Democrats and the Free Democrats towards the Union, but neither ruled out going the other way on Sunday night.
The Greens made significant gains in the election to finish third, but fell far short of their original aim of taking the chancellery, while the Free Democrats improved slightly on a good result from 2017.
Greens co-leader Annalena Baerbock said the climate crisis was the “leading issue” for the next government.
“That is for us the basis for any talks … even if we aren’t totally satisfied with our result,” she said.
Two parties on either end of the political spectrum – the far-right AfD and the Left Party – are not in the running to join the next government.
The Left Party, which won just 4.9 percent of the vote, is the smallest in the new parliament.
The new Bundestag, or lower house of parliament, will have a record 735 legislators. The parliament varies in size because of a peculiarity of Germany’s electoral system, which means that it can be considerably bigger than the minimum 598 seats.
The SPD took 206 seats, conservatives 196, the Greens 118, the Free Democrats 92, AfD 83 and the Left Party 39. One seat went to the Danish minority party SSW, which will be represented for the first time in decades.