As it happened: Centre-left SPD edges out Merkel's conservative CDU, preliminary results show

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The centre-left Social Democrats led by Olaf Scholz narrowly defeated Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives in Sunday's vote to decide her successor, preliminary results showed. The result marked a historic low for the CDU, in one of the most unpredictable elections in Europe's biggest economy in recent decades. Read our live blog below to see how Germany's election night unfolded.

13:58am Paris time

  • Transgender women win seats in German parliament

Two Green politicians have made history by becoming the first transgender women to win seats in the Bundestag, the German parliament.

Tessa Ganserer and Nyke Slawik stood for the "Grünen" party, which came third in the election and is set to play a pivotal role in the building of a new three-way coalition government.

"It is a historic victory for the Greens, but also for the trans-emancipatory movement and for the entire queer community," Ganserer, 44, told Reuters, adding that the results were a symbol of an open and tolerant society.

13.30am Paris time

  • 'Traffic-light' or 'Jamaica'?

Will it be a red-green-yellow alliance, known as the "traffic-light" coalition, or a black-green-yellow one, named after the Jamaican flag? Our international affairs editor Armen Georgian talks us through Germany's colour-coded politics.

12:25am Paris time

  • Scholz promises continuity in transatlantic relations

A government led by Olaf Scholz would offer the United States continuity in transatlantic relations, the SPD leader has told reporters.

"The transatlantic partnership is of essence for us in Germany and for a government that will be led by me. So you can rely on continuity in this question," said the SPD's candidate for chancellor.

"It is important that we understand ourselves as democracies and that we see that in a world that is becoming more dangerous it is important that we work together, even if we do have conflicts in one or the other question," Scholz added.

11:30am Paris time

  • After Merkel era, a plunge into the unknown

With approval ratings as high as 80 percent, Chancellor Angela Merkel leaves office with support that leaders across the world can only envy. But her popularity wasn't enough to lead her conservative bloc to victory on Sunday.

Below, German journalist Leo Klimm takes a look at what a post-Merkel Germany might look like and what lessons French politicians could learn ahead of presidential elections next year.

10:53am Paris time

  • CDU-CSU union drops below 31% for first time

Sunday's results mark the first time the CDU and its Bavarian partner, the CSU, have dropped below 31 percent in a nationwide election. Preliminary results give them just 24.1 percent, behind the Social Democrats on 25.7 percent.

The Greens took 14.8 percent, the Free Democrats (FDP) 11.5 percent and the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) 10.3 percent – a decline from the 12.6 percent it took to enter parliament for the first time in 2017. The smallest party in the new parliament is the Left Party, which won just 4.9 percent of the vote.

9:35am Paris time

  • SPD’s Scholz claims mandate to form coalition with Greens and FDP

SPD leader Olaf Scholz has claimed a mandate to form a government with the Greens and the pro-business FDP, signaling his preferred partners in what would be Germany’s first three-way ruling coalition. The Social Democrat said German voters had told the conservative CDU/CSU of outgoing chancellor Angela Merkel that it was time to go to the opposition after 16 years in power.

"The voters have very clearly spoken. They said who should form the next government," Scholz said. "They strengthened three parties – the Social Democrats, Greens and FDP – and therefore that is the clear mandate that the citizens of this country have given: These three should form the next government."

Below, FRANCE 24's François Picard reflects on the challenges facing a so-called "traffic-light coalition" (red-green-yellow) between the three parties.

8:59am Paris time

  • Paris mayor congratulates SPD leader

Anne Hidalgo, the Paris mayor and likely Socialist Party candidate in next year's French presidential election, has expressed her support for the SPD's Olaf Sholz, whom she "hopes" will be the next German chancellor.

Hidalgo praised the German Social Democrats for having overturned a deficit in the polls by running a progressive campaign. She notably singled out the party's pledge to raise the minimum wage and push for a transition to a greener economy.

7:47am Paris time

  • Pro-business FDP returns to potential kingmaker role

Eight years after losing all its seats in parliament, the resurgent FDP is poised to recover its role as the traditional kingmaker of German politics after taking 11.5 percent of the vote, according to preliminary official results, making it a likely partner in a future three-way alliance.

FDP leader Christian Lindner has signalled a preference for a "Jamaica" coalition with the CDU-CSU and the Greens – named after those parties' black, green and yellow colours – but has not ruled out a "traffic light" constellation with the SPD and the Greens.

Lindner has suggested speeding up the process by sitting down first with the Greens, who are hardly natural bedfellows for the FDP, before talking with the two bigger parties.

7:15am Paris time

  • SPD’s Scholz to start sounding out potential coalition partners

The Social Democrats' chancellor candidate Olaf Scholz has said he hopes to strike a coalition deal before Christmas, although his conservative rival Armin Laschet claims he could still try to form a government despite coming in second. Under German election rules, the party that comes first is not guaranteed a role in the next government if other parties have a better chance of forming a coalition.

The parties will start sounding each other out on Monday about possible alliances in informal discussions. In order to secure a majority in parliament, the SPD is likely to seek a three-way alliance with the Greens and the FDP, although the two parties could also team up with the conservatives.

5:15am Paris time

  • Preliminary official results: SPD leads with 25.7%, CDU/CSU at 24.1%

Germany’s Federal Returning Officer (Bundeswahlleiter) has published the first preliminary results from the German elections, with results from all 299 constituencies. The results track closely with the latest exit polls, giving the social democratic SPD a clear but narrow lead of 1.6 points (775,812 votes) over the conservative CDU-CSU. Both parties remain far from a majority, however, which could spell lengthy talks as each seeks to convince potential partners to join its side and form a governing coalition.

SPD: 25.7% (+5.2 since 2017)

CDU-CSU: 24.1% (-8.9)

Greens: 14.8% (+5.8)

FDP: 11.5% (+0.7)

AfD: 10.3% (-2.3)

Die Linke: 4.9% (-4.3)

4:30am Paris time

  • SPD makes gains, but tight margins could mean lengthy coalition talks

Regardless of which party leads in the final results, the narrow margin means that both the SPD and the CDU/CSU could have a chance at forming a government — and that coalition talks will likely be drawn out. FRANCE 24’s Ellen Gainsford explains.

3:30am Paris time

  • Latest estimates from German public broadcaster ZDF:

SPD: 25.8% (+5.3)

CDU-CSU: 24.1% (-8.8)

Greens: 14.6% (+5.7)

FDP: 11.5% (+0.8)

AfD: 10.4% (-2.2)

Die Linke: 4.9% (-4.3)

The projections were published at 1:09 am Central European Time. As of now, no official results have been published.

3am Paris time

  • ‘The success of the CDU over the last couple of years was due to Angela Merkel’

Caroline Kanter, director of the Paris branch of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, says there’s a straightforward reason for the CDU’s poor performance: Merkel was not on the ballot.

Germany’s centre-right party is now looking for a “fresh start” after years governing in a grand coalition with the social democratic SDP and a disappointing result on Sunday, Kanter tells FRANCE 24.

2am Paris time, September 27

  • Analysis: Germans voted for centrists, continuity over parties promising change

Exit polls put Germany’s two major parties neck and neck coming out of Sunday’s polls. While the final results have yet to be released, political scientist Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff says the overall trend is clear: Germans voted for the centre. He spoke to FRANCE 24 about what this could mean for the CDU, SPD, and Germany’s smaller parties as they prepare for coalition talks.

>> Germans ‘kept voting for Angela Merkel’ in rejection of political extremes

10:50pm Paris time

  • German media publish new estimates

Hours after the first estimates showing a razor-thin margin between the two headlining parties, the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) were on track for 26 percent of the vote, ahead of 24.5 percent for Merkel's CDU/CSU conservative bloc, according to the projections of broadcaster ZDF. Both parties believed they could lead the next government.

The projected ZDF results showed the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) on track for 10.5 percent, worse than four years ago when they stormed into the national parliament with 12.6 percent of the vote, and with all mainstream groupings ruling out a coalition with the party.

Germany’s public television ZDF published new estimates at 9:48pm Paris time

SPD: 26.0%

CDU-CSU: 24.5%

Greens: 13.9%

FDP: 11.7%

AfD: 10.5%

Die Linke: 5%

German public television and radio broadcaster ARD published slightly different estimations at 10:24pm:

SPD: 25.9%

CDU-CSU: 24.1%

Greens: 14.7%

FDP: 11.5%

AfD: 10.4%

Die Linke: 5%

9:30pm Paris Time

Germany's party leaders meet on TV for coalition 'speed-dating' talks

After voters handed back a muddled election result, candidates to succeed Angela Merkel as Germany’s chancellor met for a televised debate to start discussions on a possible coalition. Since no clear leader emerged from the polls, the debate was a kind of “speed-dating round”, FRANCE 24’s Berlin correspondent Nick Spicker reports from CDU’s headquarters:

9:18pm Paris time

  • SPD’s Scholz, CDU’s Laschet eye coalition before Christmas

CDU’s Armin Laschet and SPD’s Olaf Scholz, the two candidates to succeed Angela Merkel as German chancellor, said they each aimed to put together a ruling coalition by late December, during a television debate between party leaders hours after voters handed back a muddled election result Sunday.

"It has to be the case that I, that we do everything we can to ensure we're done by Christmas," Scholz said on ARD public television when asked about forming a government.

On the same programme, Laschet from Merkel's Christian Democrats said he shared that target: "Yes, definitely before Christmas."

8:45pm paris time

  • Greens could become key kingmaker in aftermath of German vote

Germany has never seen an election campaign so focused on the climate crisis, and the Green party has come in third in the elections, according to preliminary results. Annalena Baerbock’s party finds itself behind the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD), leading the race by a whisker, and the outgoing Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats.

But the youthful, energetic Baerbock, 40, proved popular with young voters and her party, with around 14 percent, strongly improved on its 8.9 percent score from four years ago. It is now widely expected to play a key kingmaker role in the coalition haggling to form a government. FRANCE24’s Ellen Gainsford takes a look back at Baerbock’s career.

8pm Paris time

  • Conservative candidate Laschet’s campaign marked by missteps

Germany's conservative CDU chancellor candidate Armin Laschet said his party could not be satisfied with the results of an election on Sunday but that he would do everything possible to build a conservative-led government. FRANCE 24’s Ellen Gainsford takes a look back at Armin Laschet’s campaign, which has been marked by gaffes.

7.45pm Paris time

  • Who is Olaf Scholz, who could become Germany’s next chancellor?

According to Olaf Scholz, German voters "put their crosses next to the SPD because they want there to be a change in government". But he has campaigned as the candidate of continuity after serving as Angela Merkel’s finance minister. Catherine Viette looks back at Scholz’s political career.

7:30pm Paris time

  • German media publish new estimates

Germany’s public television ZDF published new estimates at 7:03pm Paris time

SPD: 25.6% (+5.1)

CDU-CSU: 24.4% (-8.5)

Greens: 14.7% (+5.8)

FDP: 11.6% (+0.9)

AfD: 10.3% (-2.3)

Die Linke : 5% (-4.2)

The exit poll results published by German public television and radio broadcaster ARD at 7:16pm were slightly different:

SPD: 24.9% (+4,4)

CDU-CSU: 24.7% (-8.2)

Greens: 14.6% (+5.7)

FDP: 11.7% (+1)

AfD: 11.1% (-1.5)

Die Linke: 5% (-4.2)

7:15pm Paris time

  • SPD's Olaf Scholz says voters want him to be 'next chancellor'

Olaf Scholz, the Social Democrats’ candidate to succeed Angela Merkel as chancellor, told supporters his party’s narrow lead meant German voters wanted him to be country’s “next chancellor”. Scholz said he was "delighted by the results", which he qualified as “a great success”.

“Voters voted for us because they wanted a change.”

Preliminary results published on public television after polling stations closed at 6pm (1600 GMT) found Scholz's SPD with around 24.9 to 25.8 percent of the vote, followed closely behind by Merkel's Christian Democrats and their candidate Armin Laschet on 24.2 to 24.7 percent.

7pm Paris time

  • Merkel’s candidate Armin Laschet says CDU ‘will do everything we can’ to form new government

Armin Laschet, the conservative candidate to succeed Angela Merkel as chancellor, said he still aimed to head Germany's next coalition government even as early estimates showed Merkel's CDU-CSU bloc trailing the Social Democrats.

"We will do everything we can to build a government led by the (conservative) Union," Laschet told supporters in Berlin, adding that the vote outcome "is still totally unclear".

“We should not declare being winners, we still have a long time ahead of us,” he said.

"We cannot be satisfied with the results of the election," he added.

6:37pm Paris time

  • CDU politician says 'Jamaica' coalition possible with Greens, FDP

Exit polls of Germany's federal election show that a so-called Jamaica coalition of conservatives, the Greens and the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) is possible, a senior politician of Angela Merkel's CDU said minutes after polling stations closed.

(The moniker comes from the combination of the parties' colours, which make up the colours of the Jamaican flag: black for the CDU, yellow for the FDP and green for the Greens.)

"The numbers show that there's a possibility for a future-oriented coalition of the Union (CDU/CSU), the Greens, and the FDP," Secretary General Paul Ziemiak told broadcaster ARD. "It will be a long election night."

6:30pm Paris time

  • ‘That hurts’: Merkel’s CDU gets weakest result since WWII

The CDU/CSU bloc won 25% of the vote, their weakest result in a post-war federal election and on a par with the centre-left Social Democrat (SPD), the infratest poll for broadcaster ARD showed. Other exit polls showed the SPD marginally ahead.

"That hurts," CDU General Secretary Paul Ziemiak told ARD after publication of the exit polls. "The losses are bitter compared to the last election" in 2017, he told reporters.

6:20pm Paris time

  • Bavarian Merkel ally CSU hits rock bottom

The CSU party, CDU's influential Bavarian ally, has won 32.5 percent of the vote in the southern region of Bavaria, 6% lower than in 2017, according to initial surveys. If confirmed, the result could be the worst for the Bavarian conservative party since 1949.

6:17pm Paris time

  • SPD says it has ‘mandate to govern’

German Social Democrat Secretary-General Lars Klingbeil said on Sunday his party had a mandate to form a coalition, minutes after exit polls showed the SPD neck and neck with outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative bloc. "The SPD has the mandate to govern. We want Olaf Scholz to be chancellor," said Klingbeil shortly after first exit polls.

An exit poll for broadcaster ARD showed SPD and conservatives tied while other polls showed SPD marginally ahead. Other exit polls showed SPD on 25-26 percent, followed by the conservatives on 24-25 percent.

6:15pm Paris time

  • First surveys show Social Democrats and conservatives neck and neck

As polling stations closed at 6pm (1600 GMT), Germany’s public television ZDF published the first surveys. According to the country’s second largest public television station, Olaf Scholz’s SPD won 26% of the vote, Angela Merkel’s and Armin Laschet’s CDU won 24%, Greens won 14.5%, FDP 12%, AfD 10% and the leftist party Die Linke 5%.

The ARD, Germany's leading television station shows both the SPD and CDU at 25%, Greens at 15%, AfD and FDP at 11% and Die Linke at 5%.

5:50pm Paris time

  • Voting problems in Berlin

Several Berlin polling stations have experienced problems since the start of election day, German media reported on Sunday. Wrong ballots were delivered to some polling stations, which had to close while the right ones were collected. Other offices were also short of assessors.

Several media outlets reported that the queues were unusually long on election day. But voters should have time to vote: the authorities have decided to give this possibility to all those who are waiting, even if the polling stations have to remain open after 6 pm - the legal time for the end of the poll.

5:35pm Paris time

  • ‘Candidate who gets the largest share does not necessarily become chancellor’

As polls in Germany are set to close at 6pm local time, the first trends may not reveal the country’s next chancellor.

“The candidate who gets the largest share of vote is not necessarily the one who will become chancellor,” Matthew Qvortrup, professor of Political Science at Coventry University, told FRANCE 24. “That happened to Helmut Kohl and that could happen to SPD’s Olaf Scholz, which could turn out as the largest party.”

5:10pm Paris time

  • Lower turnout than in 2017, but large number of postal votes

Polls are closing at 6pm local time (1600 GMT), with exit polls to be published just after. By 2pm, 36.5 percent of the electorate had turned up at voting stations to cast their ballot. That is 4.6 percentage points lower than in 2017, but it was likely due to the large number of people voting by post.

Trends of first estimates could change quickly, once postal votes are taken into account: 40 percent of the electorate are casting their ballot by post, including Angela Merkel herself.

2:53pm Paris time

  • Conservative candidate Laschet makes voting gaffe on election day

Germany's conservative chancellor candidate Armin Laschet committed another blunder by folding his ballot the wrong way, revealing which party he had voted for before dropping it in the box: he cast both his votes for the CDU. Angela Merkel’s canidate was then ridiculed on social media for the misstep.

Under German voting rules, voters must keep their choice confidential until they have left the polling station. Although that could disqualify the vote, the chief of the electoral commission Georg Thiel said Laschet’s ballot was still valid because he had voted for his own party, as expected. "This does not constitute influencing of the vote," the commissioner said on Twitter.

This election day gaffe capped a campaign marred by blunders over the summer, which hurt his popularity all throughout. He was caught on camera laughing in the background during a tribute to the victims of devastating floods in Germany.

12:50pm Paris time

  • 'Record number of last minute voting decisions'

With German Chancellor Angela Merkel exiting stage left, the big question is who will now take centre stage? "There will probably be a record number of people voting and probably a record number of people who remain undecided until the very last minute" says FRANCE 24's Berlin correspondent Nick Spicer, has this report from inside a polling station in Berlin.

12:30pm Paris time

  • 'It will come down to every vote'

Armin Laschet, the candidate of outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right bloc to become Germany’s new leader, says the election result “will come down to every vote”.

Recent polls point to a very close race between Laschet’s centre-right Union bloc and the centre-left Social Democrats, with the Greens trailing in third.

Laschet said as he voted Sunday in Aachen, on Germany’s western border, that the election “will decide on Germany’s direction in the coming years, and so it will come down to every vote”.

His Social Democrat rival, Olaf Scholz, said after he voted in Potsdam, just outside Berlin, that he hopes voters “will make possible ... a very strong result for the Social Democrats, and that citizens will give me the mandate to become the next chancellor of Germany”.

Green candidate Annalena Baerbock is expected to vote in Potsdam later on Sunday.

Merkel’s spokesman has said that the outgoing leader was casting a postal ballot - as many Germans are expected to in this election as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

11:40am Paris time

  • From Chirac to Macron: Merkel's ties with four French presidents

Today marks the end of Angela Merkel's fourth term in office. Throughout her 16 years as German chancellor, she forged strong ties with heads of state from around the world. But the relationship between Germany and France was perhaps one of the most important.

During her time in office, Merkel worked with four different French presidents. FRANCE 24's Focus programme takes a closer look at how she got on with Jacques Chirac, Nicolas Sarkozy, François Hollande and Emmanuel Macron.

Click here to watch the full programme.

10:45am Paris time

  • Who is Olaf Scholz, the Social Democrat who has cast himself as Merkel’s heir?

Centre-left Scholz has cast himself as the favourite to succeed Chancellor Angela Merkel in the September 26 general election – with his Social Democratic Party (SPD) boasting a consistent poll lead throughout the campaign. FRANCE 24 looks at how Germany’s current finance minister has turned his lack of charisma into a political strength. Read more here.

9:30am Paris time

  • How big a role with the postal vote play in this election during the coronavirus pandemic?

FRANCE 24's Berlin correspondent Nick Spicer explains how today's election will play out as Germany goes to the polls.

8:40am Paris time

  • Germany's complicated election process

Polls close at 6pm Paris time tonight, but it may be some time before it becomes clear who will succeed Angela Merkel as chancellor.

The chancellor is not directly elected, but chosen through a vote in the Bundestag, the lower house of parliament, after a government has been formed -- meaning Merkel could still remain in her post for weeks if not months.

>> The Merkel era: 16 years at Germany's helm draws to a close

Exploratory talks

After years of two-party coalitions, three parties will likely be needed this time to achieve a majority - common in Germany's regional parliaments but not seen at the national level since the 1950s.

In most parliamentary systems, the head of state nominates a party to form a government - usually the party that has won the biggest share of the vote.

But in Germany, all parties can embark on what are known as "exploratory talks".

In this initial phase, which has no time limit, there is nothing to stop the parties from all holding coalition talks in parallel - though tradition dictates that the biggest party will invite smaller ones for discussions.

The Greens have already called a party congress for Saturday October 2, during which they could decide with whom they would take up exploratory talks.

"Whoever ends up with a majority in the Bundestag will become chancellor," Armin Laschet of Merkel's CDU-CSU conservative alliance said last week - suggesting that the second-placed party could also open negotiations.

Discussions will begin as soon as the results are in, with the parties looking to discover each other's red lines and establish whether they can work together

On Monday, the day after the election, the parties will hold leadership meetings. The newly elected MPs from each party will also hold their first meetings next week, with the SPD and CDU-CSU planning to convene on Tuesday.

The newly elected parliament must hold its inaugural session no later than 30 days after the election, on October 26.

Thrashing out the details

If two or three parties agree in principle that they would like to form an alliance, they must then begin formal coalition negotiations, with various working groups meeting to thrash out policy issues.

At the end of these negotiations, the parties decide who will be in charge of which ministry and sign a coalition contract, a thick document setting out the terms of the agreement.

This phase also has no time limit, with the outgoing government holding the fort in the meantime.

The parties then nominate who they would like to be chancellor before the official vote in the Bundestag.

After Germany's last election on September 24, 2017, Merkel was formally confirmed chancellor in a coalition between the CDU-CSU and the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) only on March 14, 2018.

Worst-case scenario

According to Article 63 of the German constitution, the head of state must propose a potential chancellor to the Bundestag.

If no cross-party alliance emerges, President Frank-Walter Steinmeier of the SPD may still nominate a potential chancellor, most likely from whichever party won the biggest share of the vote.

The parliament will then vote in a secret ballot, with the candidate needing an absolute majority.

If this is not achieved, a second vote will be held two weeks later. If there is still no absolute majority, there is then an immediate third vote in which a relative majority is enough.

The president then decides whether to appoint the chancellor as head of a minority government, or to dissolve the Bundestag and call new elections.

This worst-case scenario was narrowly avoided in 2017: faced with an impasse in negotiations, Steinmeier urged the parties to meet again, pushing for the renewal of the so-called grand coalition.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

8:00am Paris time

  • Polling stations open

Polling stations have opened across Germany for people to cast their votes in in the federal parliamentary elections. Polling stations will stay open until 6pm Paris time.

After they close, the Federal Returning Officer will announce provisional election results. These will be calculated using exit poll data and published results from local voting districts gathered so far. The vote count will then continue until the early hours of the morning.

Opinion polls show the race for the chancellery headed for a photo finish, with Merkel's CDU-CSU conservative alliance on around 23 percent, just behind the centre-left Social Democrats on 25 percent. This two-point disparity falls well within the margin of error.

"We will certainly see some surprises on Sunday," said Nico Siegel, head of the Infratest Dimap polling company.

According to the Federal Statistical Office around 60.4 million Germans are eligible to cast a ballot in this election, with the number of women (31.2 million) higher than men (29.2 million).

The new government takes power when the Bundestag has elected a chancellor with an absolute majority of over 50 percent. The chancellor then names the cabinet ministers. Merkel will remain in office in a caretaker role until the new government has officially taken office.

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