2021-09-27 12:04:47 Social Democrats win German election by slimmest of margins.

Social Democrats win German election by slimmest of margins.

As the results of Germany’s election became clearer on Monday, no party won a clear majority, but the loser was clear: Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats.

After 16 years in power under Ms. Merkel’s leadership, their vote share fell by nearly nine points, with only 24.1 percent of the vote. It was the worst showing in the party’s history, and the election marked the end of an era for Germany and Europe.

According to preliminary official results released early Monday, the Social Democratic Party defeated Ms. Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union by 1.6 percentage points. Their candidate, Olaf Scholz, insisted that the party’s five-point increase from 2017 — 25.7 percent of the vote — gave them a mandate to form the next government.

It will almost certainly take at least three parties to form a government, and both the Social Democrats and the Christian Democrats had planned to hold competing talks in order to do so.

Already on Monday, political posturing in Germany began, as the two parties sought partners for a potential government.

It could take weeks, if not months, of wrangling to form a coalition, leaving Europe’s largest democracy in a state of limbo at a critical juncture when the continent is still struggling to recover from the pandemic and France — Germany’s partner at the heart of Europe — faces divisive elections next spring.

Clément Beaune, France’s junior minister for European affairs, told France 2 television on Monday morning that Germany had prioritized “a form of moderation, stability, and continuity.”

“It is in the French interest to have a strong German government in place as soon as possible,” he said, expressing confidence that France and Germany would remain close partners regardless of which coalition formed. He described the major parties as “committed, comfortable pro-Europeans.”

Ms. Merkel was not only Germany’s chancellor for over a decade, but also Europe’s de facto leader. She guided her country and the continent through successive crises, assisting Germany in becoming Europe’s leading power for the first time since World War II.

When the exit polls were announced early Sunday evening, cheers erupted at the headquarters of the Social Democratic Party. Soon after, supporters clapped and chanted “Olaf! Olaf!” as their candidate, Olaf Scholz, took the stage to address the crowd.

“People voted for the S.P.D. because they want a change of government in this country and for the next chancellor to be named Olaf Scholz,” he explained.

The campaign turned out to be the most tumultuous in decades. Ms. Merkel’s Christian Democrats’ candidate, Armin Laschet, was long considered the front-runner until a series of gaffes compounded by his own unpopularity eroded his party’s lead. Mr. Scholz had been written off before his steady demeanor led his party to a spectacular 10-point comeback. And the Greens, who briefly led the polls early on, fell short of expectations but still achieved their best-ever result.

Mr. Laschet arrived at his party’s headquarters an hour after the polls closed, declaring the result “unclear” and vowing to form a government even if his party came in second.

The Greens, a progressive, environmentalist party, made significant gains over the previous election but fell short of a viable chance at the chancellery.

Support for the far-right Alternative for Germany, or AfD, remained roughly unchanged, while the Left party appeared to be hovering around the 5% threshold required to win seats in Parliament.

Aurelien Breeden helped with reporting.

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Social Democrats win German election by slimmest of margins.