German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s governing Christian Democratic Union faces a far bigger defeat than expected in the German election today, leaving it clinging to only a small number of seats in the national parliament.
Exit polls by public broadcaster ARD put the Christian Democratic Union on 29.5 percent of the vote, down from 38.1 percent in the last elections in 2013. The SPD would come out of its long-running coalition with the Christian Democrats on 31.5 percent, down from 41.7 percent two years ago.
This weekend’s election appears to have delivered a resounding defeat to Ms. Merkel, who has ruled Germany since 2005 and enjoyed a political career that stretches back to her student days. With the SPD and Ms. Merkel’s party neck-and-neck in the final tally, no single party would win an absolute majority.
Two other parties also made big gains: the liberal Free Democratic Party had 12.2 percent of the vote, up from 3.5 percent in 2013, and the far-right Alternative for Germany, or AfD, had 13.5 percent, up from 8.7 percent. However, neither party was able to translate its gains into seats in parliament.
It was the first time in history that Germany elected its chancellor with a party other than Ms. Merkel’s CDU.
“This is the real state of play,” Thomas Jaeger, a political scientist at Cologne University, told The Times. “The most likely prospect is that the current CDU/CSU alliance has to face the post-election negotiations as just another minority partner to the SPD in the next coalition.”
In the final count, Ms. Merkel could be forced to enter a “grand coalition” of her own party with the AfD, a combination that would create a minority government and could make future governing a struggle for the CDU.
Following the ARD exit poll, the CDU announced that party leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer would be the CDU’s new leader and its candidate for chancellor. The announcement raised worries that Ms. Merkel might step down sooner rather than later, as members fear that she has little chance of winning a third term.
By securing Ms. Kramp-Karrenbauer, the CDU will likely keep the leadership of the party, if not the country, and give Ms. Merkel’s successor a better chance of getting a third term.
But victory for the CDU is not assured. Even if Ms. Kramp-Karrenbauer secures victory in the run-off vote, which is also expected to take place today, the CDU’s party will lose the chancellery to the SPD, who is likely to head a smaller coalition government. That means Ms. Kramp-Karrenbauer will get the top job only to preside over a lost year.
“We don’t really know what to make of this,” said Dr. Jaeger. “The vast majority of Angela Merkel’s own members are opposed to her desire to seek a third term in office, in fact.”
Ms. Merkel has yet to concede the race and may well walk away from the elections victorious. But the latest polls have been consistent over the past week or so, showing a close race between the CDU and the SPD.
Whatever the outcome, today’s vote will mark a change in the German political landscape. As former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl once said: “In Germany, if there are no Mondays, then there’s no government.”
A NEW TONEOFF BY JUSTIN GLICKER AND DAVID ARTHUR:
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