Exit polls put Germany’s two main parties head-to-head as they left the polls on Sunday. While the official results have yet to be released, Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff says the general trend is clear: Germans voted for the center. Talk to Jowharabout what this could mean for the CDU, the SPD and the smaller parties in Germany as they prepare for the coalition talks.
It wasn’t long after the polls closed for the top two candidates to claim they could be Germany’s next chancellor. Olaf Scholz of the Social Democrat SDP and Armin Laschet of the conservative CDU say they are in a strong position to head the country’s next ruling coalition, even as final votes are still being counted.
What’s more, they could both be right. Exit polls show Germany’s two main parties side by side, with 25-26 percent for the SPD and 24-25 percent for the CDU. With the support of the Greens and the liberal FDP, either of them could win a majority in the Bundestag (parliament).
In a sense, this marks a significant blow for Angela Merkel’s CDU, which is on track to its worst result since its founding in 1945, and a success for the SPD, which is predicted to surpass its 2017 score by 5 points. Still, “it is the first time in Germany’s postwar history that the battle to appoint the next chancellor seems so open,” says Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff, political scientist and vice president of the Berlin office of the German Marshall Fund.
For Kleine-Brockhoff, the real winner of Sunday’s vote is the center.
“The Germans voted for moderate candidates despite the pandemic and the health crisis that, in other countries, have benefited populist and extremist movements,” he tells FRANCE 24. “In a way, people kept voting for Angela Merkel, although she was not on the ballot, as they voted for a candidate, Olaf Scholz, who campaigned for his role in the government and presented himself as the natural political successor to the chancellor.
As uncertain as the outcome remains, Sunday’s vote already presents lessons for all parties.
The Social Democrats have “come back from the dead,” says Kleine-Brockhoff. Their impressive score is all the more surprising given that the party never really reevaluated their platform after their poor performance in 2017.
The only thing that changed is his figurehead.
“The party now belongs to Olaf Scholz,” says Kleine-Brockhoff. “The only question that remains is how long the left wing of the SPD will hold out against a candidate from the pragmatic and centrist wing representing the party.”
>> Olaf Scholz, the social democrat who has proclaimed himself Merkel’s heir
CDU / CSU prepare for the fight
Perhaps the biggest paradox of Sunday’s vote is that Armin Laschet, who will go down in history as the candidate who led the CDU to its worst performance at the polls, could still become chancellor, if he manages to bring in the Greens and the FDP. . by his side.
The poor performance of the CDU and its Bavarian ally, the CSU (which also scored historically low in Bavaria) also opens the door to a “great battle” on the Conservative arena over what went wrong, says Kleine-Brockhoff.
The CSU, headed by the very popular Markus Söder, will likely not miss an opportunity to blame this painful result on Angela Merkel’s center-left turn, which Laschet has followed.
Green hopes dashed
The Greens’ vote share has risen significantly since 2017, but it nonetheless marks a disappointment for the party. For the first time this year, the Greens thought their candidate, Annalena Baerbock, might have a chance at the chancellorship. In the end, they fell very short, with about 14 percent in exit polls, 10 points less than the two largest parties.
The worse-than-expected performance is all the more surprising because “the Greens were the only ones campaigning on a platform for change, while the other major parties called for continuity,” says Kleine-Brockhoff.
The Greens called for a review of climate policy, increased investment in infrastructure and a digital revolution.
“Visibly, the demand for this real change program was not as great as the Greens thought,” says Kleine-Brockhoff.
FDP becomes an indispensable coalition partner
Christian Lindner, head of the liberal FDP, has become the undisputed king-maker of the contest. His party may not have performed much better than in 2017, but he has become an indispensable partner for any coalition (be it with the SPD and the Greens or with the CDU and the Greens).
And while the Greens have clearly expressed their preference for a left-wing coalition, the FDP has remained more fickle, keeping both doors open.
The FDP is also “the party that seems to have gained the most from the defections of the CDU, as the other alternative, the AFD, was drastically reduced,” says Kleine-Brockhoff. He attributes this success to the way “liberals managed to critique Angela Merkel’s public health policies very intelligently without sounding ‘anti-vaccine’ or conspiracy theorists.”
AFD takes a hit
The far-right populist Alternative für Deutschland (AFD) party “did not benefit at all from this health crisis,” says Kleine-Brockhoff. In their eyes, the party’s failure illustrates one of the main lessons of these elections: Germans are “generally satisfied with the way their leaders handled the pandemic.”
Those who were not preferred to try their luck with the FDP, further proof that the German extreme right may find it difficult to find a new electoral path.
Die Linke discarded?
The left-wing Die Linke party, which entered Sunday with high hopes, could end up below the 5 percent threshold needed to sit in the Bundestag.
It is a severe blow for a party that just a few days ago was seen as a possible partner in the government alongside the SPD and the Greens. According to Kleine-Brockhoff, this poor performance again reflects the rejection of German voters to political extremes. But it is also “the result of the success of the SPD, which left little room for a party to its left,” he adds.