Angela Merkel, hailed for her leadership skills beyond Germany, led a final governing coalition that was highly unstable with repeated changes of key players. Nor was she able to pick a successor as her position weakened in recent years after local election losses.
That instability will continue after the recent close election with the electorate divided among four major parties. The winner, Olaf Scholz of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), barely beat Merkel’s Christian Democratic coalition (CDU/CSU). Although the SPD vote improved since the last elections (2017), it beat the CDU/CSU by only 1.5 percent, receiving barely a quarter (25.7%) of the national vote. Because of the fragmented result, it will likely take months of negotiations with other parties to build a parliamentary majority and assemble new government.
Scholz is a known quantity serving as the current finance minister in the Merkel government. The new configuration will be more left of the Merkel government because the SPD, which was the center-left member of the coalition, must form a coalition with the Green Party. But, it will be likely as unstable as Merkel’s final years as it must also join with the Free Democratic Party, a classical liberal free-market party. All three potential partners have very different positions on key issues. They are mostly united by wanting to end the dominance of the Christian Democrats.
As the election results show, the more left parties gained strength since 2017. The issue that dominated this election tuned on the devastating floods in July that made climate change the top issue, benefiting both the Greens and the SPD. Also, examining late polls show the candidates made a difference with CDU/CSU candidate Armin Laschet, seen joking and laughing at an event during the floods, damaging the party’s support after a storm of criticism.