BERLIN: Olaf Scholz, Germany’s finance minister and SPD candidate for chancellor, waves to supporters during an election event at the Willy Brandt House on Sunday.—AP
BERLIN: Olaf Scholz, Germany’s finance minister and SPD candidate for chancellor, waves to supporters during an election event at the Willy Brandt House on Sunday.—AP

BERLIN: Germany’s Social Democrats came first by a narrow margin in Sunday’s national election, projected results showed, putting them in pole position to lead a government for the first time since 2005 and to end 16 years of conservative-led rule under Angela Merkel.

The centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) were on track for 25.5 per cent of the vote, ahead of 24.5 per cent for Merkel’s CDU/CSU conservative bloc, projections for broadcaster ARD showed, but both groups believed they could lead the next government.

The tight result, which saw the CDU/CSU slump to a post-war low for a federal election, means lengthy coalition talks will follow before a new government takes office, likely involving the Greens and the liberal Free Democrats (FDP).

“This is going to be a long election evening, that is certain,” the Social Democrats’ chancellor candidate, Olaf Scholz, told jubilant supporters.

“But it is also certain that many put their cross by the SPD because they want the next chancellor of Germany to be called Olaf Scholz,” he added.

Scholz, 63, would become the fourth post-war SPD chancellor after Willy Brandt, Helmut Schmidt and Gerhard Schroeder. Finance minister in Merkel’s awkward ruling “grand coalition”, he is a former mayor of Hamburg, where Merkel and Schmidt were both born.

Scholz’s main rival, conservative chancellor candidate Armin Laschet, said the election was “a neck and neck” race and signalled the conservatives were not ready yet to concede.

“We have no clear final result, no certain numbers... We will do everything to form a conservative-led government, because Germany needs a future-oriented coalition that modernises our country,” Laschet, 60, told subdued supporters.

Attention will now shift to informal discussions followed by more formal coalition negotiations, which could take months, leaving Merkel in charge in a caretaker role.

“This will be all about striking deals among multiple players, and several options seem possible,” said Carsten Nickel at Teneo, a political risk consultancy. “The talks could take some time.”

Merkel plans to step down after the election, making the vote an era-changing event to set the future course of Europe’s largest economy.

She has stood large on the European stage almost since taking office in 2005 _ when George Bush was US president, Jacques Chirac in the Elysee Palace in Paris and Tony Blair British prime minister.

“This has been a once-in-generation election,” said senior Greens lawmaker Katrin Goering-Eckardt.

After a domestic-focused election campaign, Berlin’s allies in Europe and beyond may have to wait for months before they can see whether the new German government is ready to engage on foreign issues to the extent they would like.

Published in Dawn, September 27th, 2021

Opinion

Lull before the storm
24 Oct 2021

Lull before the storm

The horse they bet on to romp home a winner turned out unfocused and generally disinterested.
The larger debate
Updated 23 Oct 2021

The larger debate

The revelations show how the economy promotes inequality.

Editorial

24 Oct 2021

Anti-government rallies

THE chaos is closing in on the government and its perpetual mismanagement inspires little confidence. On Friday, all...
24 Oct 2021

End of polio?

AFTER a long struggle, the reward is finally in sight. With only a single case of wild poliovirus reported this year...
24 Oct 2021

Heritage work

IT is encouraging that, slowly, projects of heritage conservation and preservation appear to be taking off. These...
A final push
Updated 23 Oct 2021

A final push

PAKISTAN’S hopes of exiting the so-called FATF grey list have been shattered once again. The global money...
23 Oct 2021

Kabul visit

FOREIGN MINISTER Shah Mahmood Qureshi’s flying visit to Kabul on Thursday is the first official high-level...
23 Oct 2021

Baqir’s blooper

THE remarks made by State Bank governor Reza Baqir at a London press conference have hit a raw nerve in Pakistan. In...