German Chancellor Angela Merkel has won a massive personal victory in Germany’s election, but the end result has left her in a tricky position.
Ms. Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union won 41.5 per cent of the vote, the best showing by the party in nearly 20 years and higher than opinion polls had predicted.
The CDU did so well it has come close to forming a majority government, falling just five seats short, according to official results. One party has not been able to form a majority government in Germany since 1957 because of the country’s complicated electoral system that routinely produces coalitions.
But crucially for the CDU, it lost its partner in the previous centre-right coalition government, the Free Democrats. The pro-business party was wiped out Sunday, failing to get above the 5 per cent threshold needed to win seats in the parliament, or Bundestag. That means Ms. Merkel will likely have to form a so-called “grand coalition” with the left-leaning Social Democrats, which came second Sunday with 26 per cent of the vote.
“This is a deceptive kind of result in many ways,” said Jan Techau, director of the European Centre at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Brussels. “It’s a personal triumph, but it comes at a price. The price is that her coalition partner, the very convenient one that she has had over the last few years, is gone … and that the coalition options in front of her will certainly be a lot less convenient for her in one way or another over the next four years.”
The CDU does not control the upper house, or Bundesrat, which is made up of representatives from the country’s 16 states and is controlled by the Social Democrats. A CDU-Social Democrat coalition would have a massive majority in both chambers, Mr. Techau said. Ms. Merkel led a CDU-Social Democrat coalition from 2005 to 2009.
The Social Democrats seem divided on whether to join a coalition. Many support the idea, but the party’s candidate for Chancellor, Peer Steinbruck, a former finance minister in a previous coalition with the CDU, seemed cool. “The situation is unclear, so the SPD would be well advised not to speculate about how the government might look,” he said Sunday. “That ball is in Mrs. Merkel’s court.”
Ms. Merkel played down talk of coalitions, saying she would open talks with the Social Democrats but preferred to wait for the final results. But she celebrated the party’s strong showing. “This is a super result,” she told supporters at the party’s headquarters in Berlin. “To the voters, I promise that we will handle it responsibly and with care. We will do everything we can in the next four years to make sure that they’re once again successful years for Germany.”
The result was a vindication for Ms. Merkel’s low-key campaign and her deliberate, if at times dull, leadership style. She clearly won the respect of German voters who have been enjoying a strong economy, low unemployment and solid government finances.
However, she did feel some heat during the campaign from the upstart Alternative for Germany, formed last spring by a group of economists who want Germany to pull out of the euro.
Party leader Bernd Luke tapped into growing resentment about Eurozone bailouts to countries such as Greece and also advocated tightening immigration rules. Early results show the AfD did not quite manage to cross the 5 per cent threshold, winning 4.9 per cent of the vote. (In Germany, half of the members of Parliament are directly elected from ridings just like in Canada. The other half are elected based on the popular vote each party receives).
Nonetheless, Mr. Luke celebrated the results as a victory of sorts.
“We enriched democracy in Germany,” he told supporters.