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German exit polls show Merkel’s centre-right bloc on track for worst-ever result

<img src='https://i.cbc.ca/1.6190389.1632694352!/fileImage/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/16x9_460/aptopix-germany-election.jpg' alt='APTOPIX Germany Election' width='460' title='Chancellor Angela Merkel stands next to Governor Armin Laschet, right, the top CDU candidate after the German parliament elections at the Christian Democratic Union, CDU, party's headquarters in Berlin, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021. German voters are choosing a new parliament in an election that will determine who succeeds Chancellor Angela Merkel after her 16 years at the helm of Europe's biggest economy.' height='259' /> <p>Germany's centre-left Social Democrats were locked in a very close race on Sunday with outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel's centre-right bloc, which is heading toward its worst-ever result in the country's parliamentary election, projections showed.</p>

Germany’s centre-left Social Democrats and outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel’s centre-right bloc both laid claim Sunday to lead the country’s next government, as projections showed the longtime leader’s party heading for its worst-ever result in a national election.

The outcome appeared to put Europe’s biggest economy on course for lengthy haggling to form a new government, while Merkel stays on in a caretaker role until a successor is sworn in. A three-party governing coalition, with two opposition parties that have traditionally been in rival ideological camps — the environmentalist Greens and the business-friendly Free Democrats — would provide the likeliest route to power for both leading candidates.

Only one of the three candidates to succeed Merkel, who chose not to run for a fifth term, looked happy after Sunday’s vote: the Social Democrats’ Olaf Scholz, the outgoing vice-chancellor and finance minister who pulled his party out of a years-long slump.

Scholz said the predicted results were “a very clear mandate to ensure now that we put together a good, pragmatic government for Germany.”

The Greens made their first bid for the chancellery with co-leader Annalena Baerbock, who fell well short of overtaking Germany’s two traditional big parties after a gaffe-strewn campaign. Armin Laschet, the governor of North Rhine-Westphalia state who outmanoeuvred a more popular rival to secure the nomination of Merkel’s Union bloc, struggled to motivate the party’s base and made missteps of his own.

Olaf Scholz, leader of the Social Democrats, waves to supporters in in Berlin on Sunday. (Britta Pedersen/dpa/The Associated Press)

Projections from ARD public television, based on exit polls and early counting, put voters’ support at 25.7 per cent for the Social Democrats and 24.5 per cent for the Union. Separate projections for ZDF public television had the Social Democrats ahead by 26 per cent to 24.5 per cent.

Those results would be the worst for the Union bloc in post-Second World War Germany. No winning party in a German national election had previously taken less than 31 per cent of the vote.

Both projections gave the Greens about 14 per cent and the Free Democrats 12 per cent.

Rivals vow to form separate coalitions

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

Laschet earlier told cheering 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 modernizes our country.”

Now it looks as though both Laschet and Scholz will be courting the same two parties. The Greens traditionally lean toward the Social Democrats, and the Free Democrats toward the Union, but neither ruled out going the other way.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and candidate Armin Laschet speak to fellow Christian Democratic Union party members in Berlin on Sunday. (Martin Meissner/The Associated Press)

The other option was a repeat of the outgoing “grand coalition” of the Union and Social Democrats that has run Germany for 12 of Merkel’s 16 years in power, but there was little obvious appetite for that after years of government squabbling.

“Everyone thinks that … this ‘grand coalition’ isn’t promising for the future, regardless of who is No. 1 and No. 2,” Laschet said. “We need a real new beginning.”

The Free Democrats’ leader, Christian Lindner, also appeared keen to govern, making an overture toward the Greens.

PHOTOS | Party supporters react as Germany votes in parliamentary election: 

“About 75 per cent of Germans didn’t vote for the next chancellor’s party,” Lindner said in a discussion on ZDF television with all parties’ leaders. “So it might be advisable … that the Greens and Free Democrats first speak to each other to structure everything that follows.”

Baerbock insisted that “the climate crisis … is the leading issue of the next government, and that is for us the basis for any talks … even if we aren’t totally satisfied with our result.”

While the Greens improved their support from the last election in 2017, they had higher expectations for Sunday’s vote.

People line up to vote outside a polling station in Friedrichshain, Germany, on Sunday. (Bernd von Jutrczenka/dpa/The Associated Press)

Two parties weren’t in contention to join Germany’s next government.

The Left Party was projected to win only five per cent, the bare minimum needed to remain in parliament.

The far-right Alternative for Germany — which no one else wants to work with — was seen winning about 11 per cent, below the 12.6 per cent showing that allowed it to enter parliament for the first time in 2017.

Taxes, climate change key election issues

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.

Laschet insists there should be no tax increases as Germany pulls out of the pandemic. Scholz and Baerbock favour tax hikes for the richest Germans, and they also back an increase in the minimum wage.

Germany’s leading parties have significant differences in their proposals for tackling climate change. Laschet’s Union bloc is pinning its hopes on technological solutions and a market-driven approach, while the Greens want to ramp up carbon prices and end the use of coal earlier than planned. Scholz has emphasized the need to protect jobs as Germany transitions to greener energy.

Election workers prepare to count absentee ballots in Munich on Sunday. (Sven Hoppe/dpa/The Associated Press)

Foreign policy did not 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.

“All of those in Europe and beyond who were worried about Germany’s stability can now see: Germany will be stable in any case,” he said.

In two regional elections that were also held Sunday, Berlin may get its first Green mayor, a post the Social Democrats have held for two decades, and the Social Democrats were set for a strong win in the northeastern state of Mecklenburg Western-Pomerania.

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Newzcap Staff