But there is still uncertainty about who will be Germany’s next leader. Both the SPD and the CDU with its coalition partner, the Christian Social Union (CSU), have said they will start coalition negotiations to form a new government.
It is likely that coalitions in Germany will either see the SPD or the CDU / CSU form a government with the Green Party, which took 14.8% of the vote, or Liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP), with 11.5%.
After Merkel’s election victory in September 2017, it took more than five months before a government was formed.
Although the preliminary count gives the SPD a slight lead over its closest rivals, the results mark a marked improvement for the party, which took 20.5% of the vote in the last election in 2017.
Its leader Olaf Scholz said voters wanted him to become the next chancellor.
“Many citizens have put their cross next to the SPD because they want a change of government and also because they want the next chancellor of this country to be named Olaf Scholz,” he said in comments on his party headquarters.
The 63-year-old politician has served as deputy chancellor and German finance minister in Merkel’s grand coalition government since 2018, giving him increased visibility as he navigated Germany’s economic response to the pandemic.
“Pragmatism, optimism, unity, that’s what we want to show, because that’s what counts, and I’m sure citizens will also be happy after the election of their decision,” Scholz added.
In contrast, CDU leader Armin Laschet told supporters that the party “cannot be content with this result”, noting that the final result remained unclear.
“We can anticipate that there could be a three-party government,” he said, adding that the party would “do anything to try to build a coalition.”
Laschet added that the CDU had “been given a mandate against a left-wing government.”
The party had been fighting for a message of stability for the country after Merkel, seen as a stable pair of hands over the past almost 16 years, resigned. But it is now coming to terms with what it even called a bitter night of loss.
Robin Fugmann, 20, an avid Scholz supporter, told CNN he was pleased with the results so far.
“It’s really a great result, people believe in Olaf Scholz, people think Armin Laschet really can not lead this country,” he said. “So we really have the mandate to lead a new government – I hope we will. And first and foremost, we need to celebrate it because it’s a really great result.”
Deborah Piraba, a 27-year-old law student and Young Christian Union Democrat, told CNN at CDU headquarters that the results were “disappointing” but that nothing had been lost yet.
“We have to consider that we’ll get out of 16 years with Angela Merkel, who I’m a big fan of. I’m already sorry she’s leaving office,” she said. “We call her Mutti (mother), she knew how to talk to people and have the connection to people, and she has done so much for Germany. This made her so special to compare her to other politicians. I also want to miss her sense. for humor. “
Meanwhile, the leader of the Greens, Annalena Baerbock, said that the party “led a campaign that we have never experienced before in this country – around the clock, until last night, the last second.”
Baerbock credited his party’s success to young and new voters. “This momentum from the marketplaces, from so many [people] who joined our party in recent years has led to this historically best result, ”she said.
But, Baerbock added, the party had “wanted more” and had failed to do better in part because of mistakes made by her during the campaign.
AfD’s leading candidate for chancellor, Alice Weidel, took up a brave face after exit polls showed a drop in support for the far-right party. Preliminary official results put the count at 10.3% of the vote, down from 12.6% in 2017.
“We are in the double digits we have been able to assert ourselves,” she told Reuters. “This claim that we would be away from Parliament after a legislative period has completely failed and we are very happy.”
What comes next
The outgoing government will remain in office until it is replaced by a new one. Merkel, 67, will then stand and the new chancellor will take the reins.
According to tradition, the leader of the strongest party will have the first shot at trying to form a government.
But German expert Holger Schmieding, chief economist at Berenberg Bank, said it would be the center-left-greens and the trader FDP that decide the form of the next government.
“After potentially lengthy ‘sound’ talks, these two parties will either join forces to put Olaf Scholz (SPD) or – a little less likely – Armin Laschet (CDU / CSU) into the chancellor’s office,” he said.
CNN’s Ivana Kottasová, Salma Abdelaziz, Nadine Schmidt, Stephanie Halasz and Laura Smith-Spark contributed to the reporting and writing.
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