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Turning left for the first time in a generation, Germany on Sunday elected a new parliament that is set to choose a center-left chancellor to succeed outgoing Angela Merkel as head of the nation’s most dominant and most prosperous in continental Europe.

After a short but gentle roller coaster of an electoral campaign, with three different parties taking turns leading the quadrennial parliamentary elections, the center-left Social Democrats, led by their colorless finance minister Olaf Scholz, have come back in force – rising unlikely from third to first place in the last five weeks of a cautious and forgettable campaign.

In an election that could have lasting repercussions across Europe and end an era of self-satisfied stagnation in Germany, the SPD came out with a rare victory as the largest party in the new parliament to sit in the building of the Reichstag. The party won 26% of the vote, after four consecutive defeats in the federal election dating back to 2005, according to exit polls announced by public broadcaster ZDF after polling stations closed at 6 p.m. Rival network ARD predicted the SPD and conservative Christian Democrats (CDU / CSU) would be neck and neck, each at 25 percent. But even if the Tories end up tied with the SPD, they have fewer paths to power given that their favorite partners, the Free Democrats, finished far fourth.

The SPD, which has long been the proud German guardian of the labor movement but has suffered greatly as Merkel’s junior partner in a loveless coalition over the past eight years, has pledged to break with the Tories and trying to form a coalition with two smaller parties. This would give post-war Germany its first tripartite coalition, although the presence of at least one unwanted bedmate raised concerns about the stability and longevity of such an alliance.

Merkel’s CDU, meanwhile, suffered its worst defeat in its history, falling to second place and ignominiously out of power for the first time in 19 years, with 24% of the vote, compared to 32.9% in the last election four years ago. Their goof-prone candidate Armin Laschet, the un-charismatic prime minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, squandered a promising first lead in the polls with a series of embarrassing blunders that garnered considerable attention in an otherwise election campaign. unspectacular that saw the candidates debate various firsts. global issues.

In a race that was his to lose, as his Conservative Party has dominated German politics by reigning for 52 of the past 72 years, Mr.’s amateurish mistakes a solemn tribute to the victims of the deadly July floods, ranging even to the point of groping the simple act of voting on Sunday by failing to properly fold and seal his ballot – thus allowing poll workers and photographers to see that he had voted for himself.

The pro-environment Greens, who had peaked early and even held a slim lead over the Tories for about a month in late April and early July, ended up with 15% – a disappointing result after a rippling campaign dominated by their signature issue. , the climate crisis. It was a surprising 10 point drop from their previous high, which collapsed due to minor discrepancies in candidate Annalena Baerbock’s CV. It was, however, nearly double the 8.9% won in 2017 and should be enough to help the party form a coalition with the SPD – with a third partner yet to be determined.

Mr Scholz will have little trouble convincing the Greens to join his center-left coalition, the two parties having made it clear in the last stages of the campaign that they wanted to renew their “red-green” coalition from 1998 to 2005. But with only 40 percent of the vote, the SPD and the Greens will need a third partner, and this is where things get tricky.

Their preference would be to ally themselves with the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP), which came in fourth place with 13% and eager to return to power after spending the last eight years in opposition. Even though the FDP would prefer to rule with the CDU, it seems that there is no path to power on the conservative side, as the two parties together hold only 37%.

The most likely outcome is therefore that the SPD (party color red), the Greens (green) and the FDP (yellow) forge a so-called “traffic light” coalition over the next four to eight weeks. If the FDP demands too much or balks at the tax hike proposals expected from the two left-wing parties, the SPD and the Greens could in theory turn to the far-left party Linke, which finished in sixth place with only 5% of the vote. But both parties expressed doubts about a so-called “red-red-green” coalition with a party that has its origins in the Communist Party SED and called for the dissolution of NATO.

Support for the far-right Alternative for Germany party fell to 10% on Sunday, according to exit polls, from 13.3% four years ago.

The Independent Gt