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  27 Sep 2021, 11:16
Update : 27 Sep 2021, 15:41

Germany's Social Democrats win election but uncertainty beckons 

   FRANKFURT, Sept 27, 2021 (BSS/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. 

   For a country synonymous with stability after 16 years of Merkel's steady 
leadership, the coming weeks and months promise to be a rocky ride as both 
Finance Minister Olaf Scholz's SPD and the conservatives led by Armin Laschet 
scramble for coalition partners. 

   The power struggle risks putting Germany out of play in the international 
scene for some time, even though the upcoming COP26 climate summit will be 
demanding action from the world's biggest powers. 

   Europe's biggest economy will also hold the presidency of the G7 club of 
rich nations next year, and will need a government capable of setting the 
international agenda. 

   European markets nevertheless heaved a sigh of relief, climbing after the 
tight results, predicting that a government led by either the SPD or the CDU 
would bring continuity in economic policy. 

   Preliminary official results showed that the centre-left Social Democrats 
(SPD) narrowly won the vote at 25.7 percent, while Merkel's centre-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. 

   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. 

   - Poker game - "The poker game for power begins," wrote Der Spiegel 
weekly. 

   The Sueddeutsche newspaper said the vote revealed that "Germans longed for 
change, but lost their nerve a bit." 

   In the fractured political landscape of the post-Merkel era, the most 
likely outcome will be a three-way alliance -- ending the post-war tradition 
of two-party coalition governments. 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. 

   The two kingmakers however are not natural bedfellows, diverging on issues 
like tax hikes and public investment in climate protection. 

   Green chancellor candidate Annalena Baerbock -- whose party hoped to do 
better with the climate crisis a top voter concern this year -- stayed vague 
about her preferred tie-up, but said it was time for "a fresh start" in the 
country of 83 million people. 

   FDP leader Christian Lindner suggested speeding up the process by sitting 
down with the Greens first before talking with the two bigger parties. 

   Lindner has signalled a preference for a coalition with the CDU-CSU and 
the Greens, dubbed "Jamaica" in a nod to the colours of each party's logo -- 
black, green and gold -- which are the same as the Jamaican flag. 

   But he has also not ruled out a "traffic light" constellation with the SPD 
and the Greens, a reference to the party colours of red, green and yellow. 

   - Options - 

   Laschet also evoked a sense of urgency, pointing to Germany's G7 
presidency next year. 

   "The new government must come into office soon," he said, "definitely 
before Christmas". 

   Neither the SPD nor the CDU-CSU want a repeat of the left-right "grand 
coalition" that has featured in three of Merkel's four governments. 

   Scholz said Monday that the conservatives belong in "the opposition" after 
their loss. 

   "The CDU and CSU have not only significantly lost votes, but they have 
essentially received the message from citizens -- they should no longer be in 
government, but should go into the opposition," said Scholz. 

   No party will team up with the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), 
whose score fell to 10.3 percent from nearly 13 percent at the last election 
in 2017. 

   The far-left Linke party fell below the five-percent threshold but 
nonetheless scraped into parliament thanks to three direct mandates. 

   Until the complex coalition negotiations are settled, Merkel will stay on 
in a caretaker capacity. 

   Should the talks last beyond December 17, she would overtake Helmut Kohl 
as Germany's longest-serving chancellor since World War II. - 'Hurts a lot' - 

   Merkel, who chose not to stand for a fifth term, remains Germany's most 
popular politician. 

   But her legacy risks being tarnished by the CDU-CSU's poor showing in 
Sunday's election, which saw the bloc fall below 30 percent for the first 
time in its seven-decade history. 

   CDU supporter Alfons Thesing, 84, put his finger on the problem. 

   "It hurts a lot that Merkel is no longer there," he told AFP. 

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