Germany went to the polls yesterday to choose its successor to Angela Merkel, who’s leaving office after 16 years as Chancellor. The result is unlikely to lead to anything resembling a smooth handover, with her centre-right Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) winning 24.1 per cent of the vote, the worst return in its history. This represents an 8.9% fall in vote share since 2017, and confirms the party’s fears over what a post-Merkel future looks like.
By contrast, the Social Democrats (SPD), Germany’s centre-left party are sitting on 25.7 per cent, up 5.2% from the last Bundestag election four years ago. The Greens are the third largest party, securing 14.8 per cent, an increase of 5.8%. In terms of the smaller parties, the centre-right Free Democrats achieved 11.5 per cent, whilst the populist Alternative for Germany party only secured 10.3%, a fall of 2.3% in their vote share.
Having looked down and out just a few months ago, the SPD’s revival is nothing short of extraordinary. Led by Olaf Scholz, the party was polling at just 17% in early August. Having taken over from Merkel as leader, Armin Laschet’s CDU have seen a precipitous fall in their support since the floods in mid-July, the deadliest natural disaster in Germany since the North Sea flood of 1962.
|Party||Seats Won||Second Vote Share (%)|
|Die Linke (Left)||39||4.9|
Germany’s electoral system mixes the “winner-takes-all” approach of Britain and the United States with the proportional representation system that allows for more small parties. The first thing to know is that every elector has two votes in Germany. Vote one is for a candidate to be the district’s local representative. The second vote is for the party. As is the case in other European democracies, voters often split their votes among different parties. The German parliament, known as the Bundestag, currently has 735 seats. The candidate with the greatest number of votes in every district automatically qualifies for a seat in Parliament. In total these members make up half of the parliament’s representatives. The remaining seats are distributed up according to how many second votes each party receives.
What does this mean?
Unsurprisingly, the two largest parties are both claiming to have earned the right to form the next government. Speaking this Monday, SPD leader Olaf Scholz’s said there were three parties that were on the up – his party, the Greens and the liberals – and it was time for the conservatives to back down. “I think that the people in Germany want the Christian Democratic Union in opposition. This is their result now, what they decided during the election”, he said. Meanwhile, the CDU’s Laschet has said that “no party has emerged from this election with a clear mandate to form a government”. He said he would lead “exploratory talks” with the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) and the Greens – the favoured coalition partners of the CDU/CSU alliance.
A defining characteristic of the German electoral system is that it’s incredibly difficult for one party to secure a majority, making coalition building a necessity. Before Sunday’s election, the government was supported by a coalition of the CDU/CSU and the SPD, this is unlikely to continue, as both parties have said they do not want to govern together again. Clarity on what will follow certainly won’t happen overnight. It took Merkel nearly six months to form her cabinet in 2017, and weeks of negotiations should be expected this time as the parties seek to bridge their political differences. Given the low vote shares of both the CDU and SPD, a number of outcomes are possible. Both could technically command a majority if they secure the support of the FDP and the Greens, yet given distance between the two on issues like taxation and public spending, this is easier said than done.