FRANKFURT, Germany (AFP) — Germany braced for a period of political unpredictability Monday after the Social Democrats narrowly won a general election but faced a rival claim to power from outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative camp.
Preliminary official results showed that the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) narrowly won the vote at 25.7 percent, while Merkel’s center-right CDU-CSU bloc sunk to a historic low of 24.1 percent.
The Green party placed third at 14.8 percent, its best result yet but still short of expectations.
The SPD’s chancellor candidate, Finance Minister and Vice-Chancellor Olaf Scholz, said he had a clear mandate to govern.
Despite the poll drubbing, his conservative rival Armin Laschet also claimed the right to try to build the next government — kickstarting a scramble for possible coalition partners.
For a country used to political stability after 16 years of Merkel’s steady leadership, the coming weeks and months promise to be a rocky ride.
Western allies are watching closely, aware that domestic preoccupations could blunt Germany’s role on the international stage and create a leadership vacuum in Europe.
Laschet, 60, and Scholz, 63, both said their goal was to have a new government in place before Christmas.
Citizens “want a change in government,” said Scholz, who ran an error-free campaign that cast him as a safe pair of hands, contrasting sharply with Laschet’s series of gaffes.
Scholz and Laschet will be looking to the Greens and the liberal, pro-business FDP party (11.5 percent) to cobble together a parliamentary majority.
Until the complex coalition negotiations are settled, Merkel will stay on in a caretaker capacity.
Should the talks last beyond 17 December, she would overtake Helmut Kohl as Germany’s longest-serving chancellor since World War II.