Update: Germany's center-left Social Democrats won the biggest share of the vote in a national election Sunday, narrowly beating outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right Union bloc in a closely fought race that will determine who succeeds the long-time leader at the helm of Europe's biggest economy, the AP reports. As CNN notes, it will be some time before the new government's makeup is completely clear. Our original story from Sunday follows:
Germany’s center-left Social Democrats and outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right bloc both laid claim Sunday to lead the country's next government as projections showed the long-time 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, per the AP. 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 outmaneuvered 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.
Projections from ARD public television, based on exit polls and early counting, put voters’ support at 25.7% for the Social Democrats and 24.5% for the Union. Separate projections for ZDF public television had the Social Democrats ahead by 26% to 24.5%. No winning party in a German national election had previously taken less than 31% of the vote. Both projections gave the Greens about 14% and the Free Democrats 12%. “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% 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.” (Read more Germany stories.)