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Germany in suspense: exit points to technical tie between center-left and Merkel’s candidate

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The most emotional elections Germany has remembered in many years did not disappoint. The uncertainty lasts until the end. The first polls point to a technical tie between the two main parties or a small majority of Olaf Scholz’s Social Democratic Party (SPD), which would have obtained about 25% or 26% of the votes, against 24% of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU ), by Armin Laschet and current Chancellor Angela Merkel, according to the first two estimates by the two public television networks, ARD and ZDF. The last word will be left to the Greens and the liberals of the FDP, necessary partners to take Scholz or Laschet to the head of the Government. It is quite possible that the Germans are going to bed tonight without knowing for sure who will rule for the next four years.

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The Greens — willing to ally themselves with both the CDU and the SPD, but more inclined toward Scholz — get about 15%. It is the best result in its history, although far short of the goal of its candidate, Annalena Baerbock, of becoming chancellor (prime minister). Liberals, who are clearly more pro-CDU, would rise by a few tenths, to 11% or 12%. With these data in hand, still provisional, both Scholz and Laschet could be chancellors. But whoever comes first must have the first word.

Laschet made statements just 45 minutes after the closing of the electoral colleges. First, he thanked Chancellor Angela Merkel for her efforts in 16 years of government — she was at his side, her eyes slightly reddened. The sad faces were evident at the headquarters of a party that had the worst results in its history. “We cannot be happy,” said Laschet, who nevertheless insisted that he will seek to lead the government. Shortly afterwards Scholz spoke. “Many citizens voted for the SPD because they want change and for the next chancellor to be named Olaf Scholz,” he told some excited activists at the Willy Brandt House, the party’s headquarters. Scholz, a man who has made tranquility a hallmark of the house, even now when his party may have won elections for the first time in two decades has not allowed himself to make a concession to sentiment.

Mathematically, there are several possible tripartite coalitions, but the most realistic options are reduced to two: the so-called semaphore coalition (SPD, Greens, Liberals), and Jamaica (CDU/CSU, Greens and Liberals). Everything seems to indicate that the environmentalists and the FDP will have to come to an agreement, despite their programmatic differences. The drop of Die Linke’s post-communists to 5%, at the risk of losing representation in the Bundestag, closes the options for a left-wing tripartite and gives Christian Lindner’s liberals more bargaining power in a negotiation.

Germany is about to enter into very long negotiations. Four years ago, Angela Merkel took nearly half a year to close the third grand coalition in her 16 years in office. The paralysis of the most populous country (about 83 million inhabitants) and with the greatest economic weight in the European Union threatens to leave the European club without leadership precisely when important challenges appear on the horizon. The EU will have to decide on crucial issues such as when to re-establish fiscal rules so as not to make it difficult to get out of the crisis or what response to give to the new international scenario that is opening up with the crisis in Afghanistan and the problems of the Biden Administration with France due to the military alliance that Washington did with the UK and Australia.

The SPD achieves a result that no one had predicted a few months ago. According to first estimates, it would have risen about five points compared to 2017. In addition, it also won regional elections held this Sunday in Berlin and in the eastern state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania.

The party managed to revitalize its campaign last month. And not so much thanks to the acronym as to candidate Scholz, vice chancellor and finance minister of the current grand coalition. Being by Merkel’s side and identifying with his policies and his way of managing, reflective and without strident, allowed him to present himself to the electorate as the most merkelian of the candidates. The latest polls showed that, if citizens could directly elect the chancellor —in the country, the voter votes for a party—, they would clearly choose the Social Democrat. Scholz knew how to take advantage of his competitors’ mistakes. Citizens also valued his management experience and his long political career.

The blow for the CDU is huge. Konrad Adenauer and Helmut Kohl’s party had the worst results in its history. So far, its worst performance had been 31% in 1949. With respect to the last elections that Merkel ran, it lost eight points. If the results confirm the polls’ projections, the knives will emerge in the party accustomed since 2005 to winning every election under Merkel’s baton.

Laschet turned out to be a fiasco as a candidate. He failed to convince the country that he was the right man to guarantee stability. And he made big mistakes, too, like the laughter broadcast live when he visited wetlands in August. Even on election day, it didn’t stop slipping. This Sunday, at the electoral college, he showed the contents of his ballot before putting it in the ballot box. Instead of bending it so that the content was on the inside, you could see the crosses he had marked, an image that all the media immediately publicized. This is a new mistake for which Laschet has received numerous criticisms, for violating the principle that the vote is secret.

These elections bring a lot of news to Germans. It is the first time that the current chancellor has not tried to be reelected. Never before has the vote been so fragmented, with the two main parties closely matched and three others, the FDP, the Greens and the right-wing extremist Alternative to Germany (AfD) within walking distance. This further dilution of votes causes uncertainty that will likely translate into months of complicated negotiations to form a Government. Merkel will remain as interim chancellor throughout the entire process, which could extend into the beginning of next year.

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