Bundestag Elections

SPD wins by the slimmest of margins, but conservatives may still form a government

CDU gets worst result ever and Olaf Scholz leads the count

3 min
01. The SPD candidate, Olaf Scholz, who won by the narrowest of margins, greeting his supporters. 02. The CDU candidate, Armin Laschet, with Merkel.

BerlinThe atmosphere in the German capital this Sunday afternoon and evening was of full summer, with lively streets lively and chaotic traffic due to the Berlin Marathon. There has also been chaos in the distribution of ballots in some polling stations and people were still voting at eight o'clock in the evening, although the polling stations should have closed at six o'clock. The election night monitoring has generated much more expectation than in recent years and stages were set up to follow the results, as if it were the Euros.

It was expected that Angela Merkel's conservatives (CDU-CSU) would lose votes, as was that the Social Democrats (SPD) would win. The race was tighter than the polls predicted, and the first vote counts did not come in until midnight. According to the first official results, which became known early on Monday morning, Olaf Scholz's SPD has won the elections to the Bundestag with 25.7% of the vote (5.2% more than 2017), Armin Laschet's CDU/CSU has recorded the worst result in its history with 24,1% (down 8.8% from 2017), the Greens have achieved their best results ever, advancing from 8.9% to 14.8% and become, alongside FDP Liberals (from 10.7% to 11.5%), the key small parties for coalitions. The far-right (AfD) will continue in the Bundestag, but has lost votes compared to 2017 (from 12.6% to 10.3%). It is unclear whether Die Linke will continue in Parliament because it has not reached the threshold 5% (compared to 8.9% in 2017).

Election results in Germany

"I hope to have a government before Christmas. Now it's about showing political leadership and finding agreements that not only work on paper," Scholz has told the so-called "elephant round", the debate between the heads of parties with parliamentary representation on public television ARD. Laschet – whose seat as head of the opposition is not assured due to Germany's dual electoral system of direct and list voting – wants to wait for the party leadership meeting on Monday and has said that he wishes to remain CDU leader, despite the poor results.

Possible coalitions

Four years ago, more than half of Germans preferred a CDU-CSU-led government and now, according to ARD/ZDF television polls, the numbers have changed: more than half prefer a government with a Social Democratic chancellor.

"The new government has to be a government for the climate, this is what the people voted for and we feel responsible for achieving this. This country needs a renewal", said Green candidate Annalena Baerbock. The liberal candidate, Christian Lindner, has invited the Greens to meet them first separately before going on to sound out the two big parties and opt for one of the coalitions that are on the table: Jamaica, Kenya or Traffic Light, as the German press calls them due to the colour combinations of the parties, which make up the flags of these countries.

The Grand Coalition of social democrats and conservatives has a narrow absolute majority, but politicians don't mention it. What is ruled out is a left-wing coalition because it would not achieve an absolute majority. And, in fact, Lindner has hinted that he would prefer to form a coalition with the Conservatives, the second most voted party. "The Germans do not want a coalition with Die Linke", insisted Markus Söder, Bavarian president and leader of the CSU; looking to avoid a coalition of social democrats with Die Linke became a main issue for the conservatives in the final phase of the campaign.

The far right loses votes

While the far-right has lost seats in the Bundestag, the protest vote has been divided between Alternative for Germany (AfD) and two other small parties that have stood out against the measures to curb the coronavirus: the Free Voters and the Grassroots. On the other hand, in two regions in the east of the country, AfD was the most voted party with 24.2% in Thuringia (followed by the SPD and the CDU) and with 30% in Saxony (followed by the CDU and the SPD); the Greens failed to reach the 5% threshold.

It seems that it will be the first time in the history of Germany that the government will be a three-way coalition and that, as the leader of the liberals pointed out on election night, "75% of the voters will not have voted for the chancellor's party". The turnout in the federal parliamentary elections was 76%, similar to 2017, and postal vote reached a record-breaking 38.5%. This week the first contacts to form a government will take place. It remains to be seen whether Merkel can soon retire from politics as she has said she would like or whether she will still have to prepare another Christmas speech.