German poll results herald messier politics post Merkel

German election results herald messier politics and weaker leadership after Merkel

Sunday’s election signaled the end of an era for Germany and for Europe

For over a decade, Merkel was not just chancellor of Germany but effectively the leader of Europe. Credit: AFP Photo

After 16 years of Angela Merkel as their chancellor, Germans scattered their votes across the political spectrum Sunday in the election to replace her, a fractured return that heralds a messier political era in Germany and weaker German leadership in Europe.

Preliminary official results gave the center-left Social Democrats a lead of 1.6 percentage points, an outcome so close that no one could yet say who the next chancellor would be nor what the next government would look like.

The only thing that seemed clear was that it would take weeks if not months of haggling to form a coalition, leaving Europe’s biggest democracy suspended in a kind of limbo at a critical moment when the continent is still struggling to recover from the pandemic.

Read more: Social Democrats beat Merkel's bloc in Germany elections

Sunday’s election signaled the end of an era for Germany and for Europe. For over a decade, Merkel was not just chancellor of Germany but effectively the leader of Europe. She steered her country and the continent through successive crises and in the process helped Germany become Europe’s leading power for the first time since two world wars.

But the campaign proved to be the most volatile in decades. Armin Laschet, the candidate of Merkel’s Christian Democrats, was long seen as the front-runner until a series of blunders compounded by his own unpopularity eroded his party’s lead. Olaf Scholz, the Social Democratic candidate, was counted out altogether before his steady persona led his party to a spectacular 10-point comeback. And the Greens, who briefly led the polls early on, fell short of expectations but recorded their best result ever.

On Sunday, the Christian Democrats’ share of the vote collapsed well below 30 per cent, heading toward the worst showing in their history. For the first time, three parties will be needed to form a coalition — and both main parties are planning to hold competing talks to do so.

“It’s so unprecedented that it’s not even clear who talks with whom on whose invitation about what, because the constitution does not have guardrails for a situation like that,” said Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff, the Berlin-based vice president of the German Marshall Fund, a research group.

Even before the first official returns were announced, the battle lines were drawn as both main contenders to succeed Merkel as chancellor announced their claims to the top job — and their intention to fight for it.

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