Center-left likely to replace Merkel as German coalition negotiations begin
In Iceland, the country's incumbent coalition performs well and should carry on
The German election to replace Chancellor Angela Merkel largely followed the pre-election polling, putting the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) in first place and its leader, Olaf Scholz, in the driver’s seat to form the next government. The SPD won 26% of the vote, up 5% from 2017, while Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and sister party Christian Social Union (CSU) combined to win 24% of the vote, down almost 9% from the last election. This is the worst election result in post-war history for the CDU/CSU.
The center-left Greens were the other big winners on the night, winning 15% of the vote, an all-time high and up almost 6%. The classically liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) was up slightly, winning 11.5%, while the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) saw its share decrease a bit, to 10%. The other big loser of the night was the left-wing The Left, which lost nearly half its support and fell just below 5%. Normally a party below that mark would not receive seats through the traditional system of proportional representation, but The Left qualified through an alternative method, winning three constituency seats in Berlin and Leipzig.
Despite the SPD winning the election, the 26% it received is an all-time low for a first-place party in postwar history. That sets the stage for a messy period of coalition building, where three parties will almost certainly be required to form a government. At the outset, though, two parties can be eliminated consideration: Every other party has stated that it will not work with the AfD, and the two parties who would cooperate with The Left, the SPD and the Greens, don’t add up to a majority when all three are combined due to The Left’s poor showing. As a result, the next government will have to come from some mix of the SPD, CDU/CSU, Greens, and FDP.
The leaders of both the SPD and the CDU announced on election night that they would seek to form a three-party coalition government with the Greens and the FDP. As it became clear that the SPD had come in first, Merkel and CDU leader Armin Laschet congratulated the SPD for placing first and it’s become clear that the SPD will have the first crack at forming a government.
Negotiations between the SPD and the Greens should be relatively straightforward as the parties governed together from 1998-2005, but negotiations with the fiscally conservative FDP are likely to be far stickier. The Greens and the FDP have already had initial meetings with each other in an attempt to avoid a repeat of 2017 when an attempted coalition between the CDU, Greens, and FDP broke down.
One other alternative is possible, a so-called "grand coalition" between the SPD and CDU, which is currently governing Germany and has done so for 12 years of Merkel’s 16-year reign. But both parties have insisted that they do not want to re-up the coalition, making it a last resort. Of course, it was also a last resort in 2017 yet came to be, so don’t completely rule it out.
That year, negotiations dragged on for nearly six months, so it’s unclear when exactly a new government will take power and allow Merkel to retire, as she currently remains chancellor in a caretaker capacity. Party leaders have said they want to have a deal in place by Christmas at the latest, so we’ll see if three months is enough.
Iceland’s election results provided a few small surprises, but largely followed pre-election polling. The three parties who make up the current government, the center-right Independence Party, the center-right Progressive Party, and the center-left Left-Green Movement, remained in the top three spots but in a different order. The Independence Party came in first and won the same number of seats as in 2017, while the Progressive Party gained five seats and took second. The Left-Greens, meanwhile, lost three seats and fell from second place to third.
Further down the ballot the Centre Party, which broke off from the Progressive Party last election, lost four seats and the new Icelandic Socialist Party, which had been polling above the 5% threshold, only received 4.1% and won’t enter parliament. The other parties all came within a seat or two of their 2017 results.
The leaders of the top three parties all said that if the current government held onto its majority, their preference would be to continue the three-party coalition. It’s a still a question, though, if the Left-Green’s Katrín Jakobsdóttir will hold onto the prime minister’s office. The Left-Greens were able to leverage the center-right’s failure to form a government into demanding the prime minister’s office in 2017, but having lost ground and come in third, the party may have less leverage this time around. Either way, the next government is not expected to stray much from the center of Icelandic politics.