Germany’s CDU faces historic disaster as SPD appears to edge ahead in election

Exit polls indicate Angela Merkel’s ruling party has had its worst-ever election result

German chancellor Angela Merkel waves as leading CDU members applaud at the party’s headquarters in Berlin on Sunday. Photograph: AP Photo/Markus Schreiber

German chancellor Angela Merkel waves as leading CDU members applaud at the party’s headquarters in Berlin on Sunday. Photograph: AP Photo/Markus Schreiber

 

The Merkel era ended with a whimper on Sunday evening with what appeared to be the worst-ever election result in the history of her Christian Democratic Union (CDU). The party’s hopes of securing a record fifth consecutive term in office, this time without Angela Merkel, hung in the balance on Sunday night as early projections for Germany’s federal election showed the CDU in second place for the first time in 20 years.

Early projections from Germany’s ARD public broadcaster indicated the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the centre-right CDU on 25.5 and 24.5 per cent of the vote in Sunday’s election respectively.

After four terms in office, the CDU under its new leader Armin Laschet slumped by eight percentage points on the 2017 election, according to the projections, while the SPD surged four points with its lead candidate Olaf Scholz. Germany’s Green Party is all but certain to be part of any new coalition after it finished in third place with almost 15 per cent of the vote, according to ARD projections. The liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) finished on 11.7 per cent in the exit poll, just ahead of the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), which was just shy of 11 per cent.

Sunday’s vote was the CDU’s first election outing without German chancellor Angela Merkel since 2005. That election began Germany’s Merkel era, when the CDU squeezed into power with a one-point lead. This time around the SPD ended the Merkel era with its nose ahead.

”It will be a long election night but . . . people want a change in government and that the next chancellor of this country is Olaf Scholz,” said a smiling Mr Scholz, the SPD chancellor candidate, to jubilant cheers. He predicted complicated talks for a three-party coalition but said he would favour an alliance with the Green Party.

After a long radio silence, Mr Laschet eventually appeared alongside Dr Merkel before supporters, conceding that the party “cannot be happy with this result”.

Predicting a long evening, he said his party stood ready for a “future-oriented” coalition.

“For the first time for 16 years Angela Merkel wasn’t running, no one had an incumbent bonus,” he said. “And a new government has to be put together from the centre of the Bundestag, with as much overlap as possible from three parties.”

Coalition options

Two coalitions are most likely in the new Bundestag: an SPD-led “traffic light” coalition with the Greens and FDP; and a “Jamaica” coalition led by the CDU with the Greens and FDP.

Green leader Annalena Baerbock said voters had given her party a “mandate for the future” and indicated she favoured the “traffic light” option.

“The night is young, we notice this country needs renewal and a climate government, that is the result of this federal election,” she said. 

FDP leader Christian Lindner insisted a CDU-led “Jamaica” option was still a possibility.

“We’re very independent and we’ll take that independence into any coalition talks,” he said.

AfD co-leader Alice Weidel said that, despite a slump in support, the party’s return to parliament disproved its rivals’ predictions that it would survive only one term in the Bundestag.

“We disproved that, [we] can count on a solid core vote,” she said.

The hard-left Linke are struggling to clear the 5 per cent vote-share hurdle to return to the Bundestag lower house. 

“For us it is not a pleasant evening, it will be a long one, we are hoping to stay in parliament,” said Susanne Hennig-Wellsow, Linke co-leader.

The tight result – with a record postal vote among the ballots being counted on Sunday evening – means a complicated period of coalition talks is likely, during which Dr Merkel is likely to stay on for a lengthy period as caretaker chancellor.

Sunday also saw voters in Berlin elect a new state parliament with a surprise result: the Greens appeared to have taken nearly a quarter of that vote, taking first place in one poll projection to oust the ruling SPD with 21 per cent.

Long queues snaked around Berlin voting stations amid a shortage of ballot papers and four separate votes in the city: federal and state elections as well as local elections and a referendum on social housing. 

Polling stations in Berlin stayed open at least 90 minutes after the official closing time.