Despite getting its worst-ever result in a federal contest, the Union bloc says it too would reach out to smaller parties to discuss forming a government, while Angela Merkel stays on in a caretaker role until a successor is sworn in.

Social Democratic Party (SPD) leader and top candidate for chancellor Olaf Scholz and party co-leader Saskia Esken react after first exit polls for the general elections in Berlin, Germany, September 26, 2021.
Social Democratic Party (SPD) leader and top candidate for chancellor Olaf Scholz and party co-leader Saskia Esken react after first exit polls for the general elections in Berlin, Germany, September 26, 2021. (Reuters)

Germany's centre-left Social Democrats have won the biggest share of the vote in a national election on Sunday, narrowly beating outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel ’s centre-right Union bloc in a closely fought race that will determine who succeeds the long-time leader at the helm of Europe's biggest economy.

The Social Democrats’ candidate Olaf Scholz, the outgoing vice chancellor and finance minister who pulled his party out of a years-long slump, said the outcome was “a very clear mandate to ensure now that we put together a good, pragmatic government for Germany.”

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Forming next government

Despite getting its worst-ever result in a federal contest, the Union bloc said it too would reach out to smaller parties to discuss forming a government, while Merkel stays on in a caretaker role until a successor is sworn in.

Election officials said early on Monday that a count of all 299 constituencies showed the Social Democrats received 25.9 percent of the vote, ahead of 24.1 percent for the Union bloc. No winning party in a German national election had previously taken less than 31 percent of the vote.

Armin Laschet, the governor of North Rhine-Westphalia state who outmanoeuvred a more popular rival to secure the nomination of Merkel’s Union bloc, had struggled to motivate the party’s base and suffered a series of missteps.

“Of course, this is a loss of votes that isn't pretty,” Laschet said of results that looked set to undercut by some measure the Union's previous worst showing of 31 percent in 1949. But he added that with Merkel departing after 16 years in power, “no one had an incumbent bonus in this election.”

Laschet told supporters that “we will do everything we can to form a government under the Union’s leadership, because Germany now needs a coalition for the future that modernises our country.”

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Differences among leading parties

Due to Germany’s complicated electoral system, a full breakdown of the result by seats in parliament was still pending.

Merkel, who has won plaudits for steering Germany through several major crises, won’t be an easy leader to follow. Her successor will have to oversee the country's recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, which Germany so far has weathered relatively well thanks to large rescue programs.

Germany's leading parties have significant differences when it comes to taxation and tackling climate change.

Foreign policy didn't feature much in the campaign, although the Greens favour a tougher stance toward China and Russia.

Whichever parties form the next German government, the Free Democrats' Lindner said it was “good news” that it would have a majority with centrist parties.

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies