Angela Merkel governed Germany as the country’s chancellor for 16 years, and it will likely take the Germans, as well as the Europeans in general, some time before they fully understand both her disappearance from the political scene and her party’s defeat in this week’s German general elections.
Merkel’s centre-right CDU/CSU Bloc narrowly lost the race to automatically name the new chancellor in the elections, and though it was not a crushing defeat it could end the bloc’s domination of German politics.
The centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) came first in the elections with 25.9 per cent of the vote, while the CDU/CSU Bloc took second place with 24.1 per cent. The environmentalist Greens and the centrist Free Democrats (FDP) gained 14.8 and 11.5 per cent of the vote, respectively.
“I would have preferred to be first,” leader of Germany’s ruling CDU Party Armin Laschet said. “I understand, of course, that I bear some personal responsibility for this result.”
This is the worst defeat for Laschet’s party since World War II. However, he congratulated the winners, believing that they cannot now form a coalition government since in his view any party that receives less than 30 per cent of the vote cannot seek to impose its rule.
But Laschet’s statement seemed to be annoying for Olaf Scholz, the leader of the SPD. He said that “parties that have been voted out of office shouldn’t try to build a government,” referring to the defeated CDU/CSU.
“The voters have spoken very clearly,” Scholz said on 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.”
The war of words reflects the fact that both men want to be the next chancellor of Germany to replace Angela Merkel. The two parties worked together in a coalition that ruled Germany for 12 out of Merkel’s 16-year time in office, but today their willingness to repeat the same experience is questionable.
Germany’s political leaders would like to see the coalition talks on the next government concluded before the country starts its leadership of the G7 group in January.
The country’s two major parties have differences when it comes to tax policy and policies to combat climate change. The Greens want a harsh strategy on China and Russia, though foreign affairs were not extensively tackled during the campaigns.
The CDU could now form a coalition government with the Greens or the Free Democrats, retaining the chancellorship. The two smaller parties announced they were willing to examine coalition scenarios with each other ahead of speaking to the larger parties.
“There’s plenty of reason to expect the next government will be a traffic light one,” Greens’ co-leader Robert Habeck said, using the German term for a coalition between the SPD, the FDP and the Greens, each of which has a different colour.
Germany has rarely seen so many possibilities in play regarding the shape of its next cabinet. The lower house of the country’s parliament, the Bundestag, will have the unprecedented number of 735 MPs, exceeding the 598 seats in the chamber.
Following the elections, the Social Democrats have 206 seats, the CDU/CSU 196, the Greens 118, the Free Democrats 92, the Alternative for Germany Party 83 and the left-wing party Die Linke 39. Enjoying representation for the first time since 1949, the Danish SSW minority party has one seat.
Merkel’s government will stay in office until a new coalition is formed, though it is not known when this will happen.
In 2018, Merkel said she would not seek a fifth term as German chancellor. “This term is my last as chancellor,” she said. “I will not be seeking re-election as a CDU lawmaker. I will not be seeking any political posts after the current term ends in 2021,” she concluded.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 30 September, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly