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Social Dems Narrowly Win in Germany    09/27 06:06

   

   BERLIN (AP) -- Germany's center-left Social Democrats won the biggest share 
of the vote in a national election Sunday, narrowly beating outgoing Chancellor 
Angela Merkel 's center-right Union bloc in a closely fought race that will 
determine who succeeds the long-time leader at the helm of Europe's biggest 
economy.

   The Social Democrats' candidate Olaf Scholz, the outgoing vice chancellor 
and finance minister who pulled his party out of a years-long slump, said the 
outcome was "a very clear mandate to ensure now that we put together a good, 
pragmatic government for Germany."

   Despite getting its worst-ever result in a federal contest, the Union bloc 
said it too would reach out to smaller parties to discuss forming a government, 
while Merkel stays on in a caretaker role until a successor is sworn in.

   Election officials said early Monday that a count of all 299 constituencies 
showed the Social Democrats received 25.9% of the vote, ahead of 24.1% for the 
Union bloc. No winning party in a German national election had previously taken 
less than 31% of the vote.

   Armin Laschet, the governor of North Rhine-Westphalia state who 
outmaneuvered a more popular rival to secure the nomination of Merkel's Union 
bloc, had struggled to motivate the party's base and suffered a series of 
missteps.

   "Of course, this is a loss of votes that isn't pretty," Laschet said of 
results that looked set to undercut by some measure the Union's previous worst 
showing of 31% in 1949. But he added that with Merkel departing after 16 years 
in power, "no one had an incumbent bonus in this election."

   Laschet told supporters that "we will do everything we can to form a 
government under the Union's leadership, because Germany now needs a coalition 
for the future that modernizes our country."

   Both Laschet and Scholz will be courting the same two parties: the 
environmentalist Greens, who were third with 14.8%; and the pro-business Free 
Democrats, who took 11.5% of the vote.

   The Greens traditionally lean toward the Social Democrats and the Free 
Democrats toward the Union, but neither ruled out going the other way.

   The other option was a repeat of the outgoing "grand coalition" of the Union 
and Social Democrats that has run Germany for 12 of Merkel's 16 years in power, 
but there was little obvious appetite for that after years of government 
squabbling.

   "Everyone thinks that ... this 'grand coalition' isn't promising for the 
future, regardless of who is No. 1 and No. 2," Laschet said. "We need a real 
new beginning."

   The Free Democrats' leader, Christian Lindner, appeared keen to govern, 
suggesting that his party and the Greens should make the first move.

   "About 75% of Germans didn't vote for the next chancellor's party," Lindner 
said in a post-election debate with all parties' leaders on public broadcaster 
ZDF. "So it might be advisable ... that the Greens and Free Democrats first 
speak to each other to structure everything that follows."

   Baerbock insisted that "the climate crisis ... is the leading issue of the 
next government, and that is for us the basis for any talks ... even if we 
aren't totally satisfied with our result."

   While the Greens improved their support from the last election in 2017, they 
had higher expectations for Sunday's vote.

   The Left Party was projected to win only 4.9% of the vote and risked being 
kicked out of parliament entirely. The far-right Alternative for Germany -- 
which no one else wants to work with -- received 10.3%. This was about 2 
percentage points less than in 2017, when it first entered parliament.

   Due to Germany's complicated electoral system, a full breakdown of the 
result by seats in parliament was still pending.

   Merkel, who has won plaudits for steering Germany through several major 
crises, won't be an easy leader to follow. Her successor will have to oversee 
the country's recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, which Germany so far has 
weathered relatively well thanks to large rescue programs.

   Germany's leading parties have significant differences when it comes to 
taxation and tackling climate change.

   Foreign policy didn't feature much in the campaign, although the Greens 
favor a tougher stance toward China and Russia.

   Whichever parties form the next German government, the Free Democrats' 
Lindner said it was "good news" that it would have a majority with centrist 
parties.

   "All of those in Europe and beyond who were worried about Germany's 
stability can now see: Germany will be stable in any case," he said.

   Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez sent early congratulations to Scholz.

   "Spain and Germany will continue to work together for a stronger Europe and 
for a fair and green recovery that leaves no one behind," he wrote on Twitter.

   In two regional elections also held Sunday, the Social Democrats looked set 
to defend the post of Berlin mayor that they have held for two decades. The 
party was also on course for a strong win in the northeastern state of 
Mecklenburg Western-Pomerania.

   For the first time since 1949, the Danish minority party SSW was set to win 
a seat in parliament, officials said.

 
 
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