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Germany votes: Big gains for center-left parties, heavy losses for conservatives — as it happened

Angela Merkel’s conservatives have suffered their worst postwar result. The center-left Social Democrats now lead, preliminary results show. Both parties say they are ready to form the next coalition.

  • The vote will decide who becomes Germany’s next chancellor when Angela Merkel steps down
  • Preliminary results show the SPD leading the CDU/CSU
  • The Greens are third, followed by the FDP, the AfD and the Left party
  • The SPD and CDU both claim mandate to form a coalition

Last updated at 05:00 GMT/UTC 

Live updates now closed

We’re ending our election night coverage — For the latest developments and reactions on Monday, follow our live updates here.

Looking for a wrap of what happened overnight and what’s to come? Click here for our election night analysis.

Preliminary final results are in after long night’s counting

Olaf Scholz’s Social Democrats have won 25.7% of the vote, according to the preliminary results, ahead of the CDU/CSU alliance which dropped down to 24.1%.

The Greens maintained their position as the third largest party, winning 14.8% of the vote. The Free Democrats (FDP) claimed 11.5% the AfD 10.3%, the Left Party fell to 4.9% but will retain its seats in the Bundestag despite dropping below the 5% hurdle, thanks to winning three districts directly.

The Greens and the FDP are the kingmakers for likely coalitions, either the CDU/CSU or the SPD could team up with them and form a government, if they can convince both parties to cooperate. 

Bavarian CSU sees worst results in over 70 years

The Christian Democrats’ Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), saw its worst election performance since 1949, winning 31.7% in Bavaria, which is more than seven percentage points down from its 2017 performance.

As recently as 2013, the CSU had taken above 47% of the vote and had enough seats to govern in Bavaria without a coalition.

But while the CDU’s national woes have certainly extended to Bavaria, the notoriously conservative and Catholic state remains the happiest hunting ground by far for the conservative bloc. The CSU’s record low was still well clear of the nationwide tally of around 24%.

The Left Party has likely missed the 5% hurdle, but will still stay in Parliament

There’s one election rule in German politics that you might have heard of: the so-called 5% hurdle. For parties to claim a number of seats in Parliament representing their share of the national popular vote, they must secure 5% support.

The idea is to only permit serious political forces into the Bundestag and to limit the risk of fragmentation.

The socialist Left Party, die Linke, looks set to fall below that threshold, currently logging 4.9%. However, another election bylaw might salvage their seats.

If a party can win three electoral districts outright, but only 4% of the popular vote, for example, then it can automatically claim seats equivalent to its 4% support.

The Left Party has won three districts and will thereby remain the smallest party in the Bundestag.

Far-right AfD builds on strongholds in east

Voting results show continued regional disparities in performance for the populist Alternative for Germany (AfD).

It emerged as the strongest party in the eastern German state of Thuringia, winning 24% of votes. The Social Democrats came in second at 23.4%. In neighboring Saxony, the AfD also received the largest share of votes at 24.6%, and the SPD were also in second place there at 19.3%

The AfD traditionally performs better in Germany’s less-wealthy eastern states. Its performances in larger and more affluent states like Bavaria (9%) and Rhineland Palatinate (9.7%) it was closer to its national average of between 10-11%

  • A crowd of young people in masks at SPD party headquarters react to initial election results, clapping and throwing their arms in the air.FROM CDU DISMAY TO GREEN DISAPPOINTMENT TO SPD DELIGHTCelebration for the SPDThere was jubilation at the Willy Brandt House, although it’s unclear whether the Social Democrats (SPD) will emerge from this election as the strongest party. Initial projections indicate that the SPD won around 25% — a comeback few had believed possible in the spring. This would mean that, for the first time in 16 years, the SPD may be the party to provide the German chancellor.

SPD gains continue

The gap between frontrunners,the center-left SPD, and nearest challengers, the center-right CDU/CSU, keeps widening as more votes are counted. A total of 1.7 percentage points now lies between the SPD and the conservatives.

CDU/CSU: 24.1%
SPD: 25.8%
AfD: 10.5%
FDP: 11.5%
Linke: 4.9%
Greens: 14.6%
Other parties: 8.6% 

Party time at SPD, Greens’ headquarters

DW correspondent Nina Haase tweeted a video of celebrations from the center-left Social Democrat headquarters.

DW’s Giulia Saudelli, reporting from the Green Party’s headquarters, tweeted that it was “party time” there too. “Despite some disappointment for their placement in the projections, the party is celebrating what it can — likely their best result yet in a federal election,” she added.

Germany ‘can move beyond being cautious’

Foreign policy experts told DW how they would like to see the role of the future German government develop.

Anthony Gardner, the former US Ambassador to EU said that: “Germany can move beyond just being cautious and now being more proactive.”

He also called on a future German government to spend more, saying it was the country’s “duty” to do so and to “stop beggaring its neighbors.” Gardner also called on Germany to “abandon its orthodox views on debt.”

He added that he was “personally thankful for the role that Angela Merkel played” and was the “adult in the room” during Donald Trump’s US presidency.

Andrey Kortunov, the director general of the state-sponsored Russian International Affairs Council told DW that: “In Moscow, they [the government] would prefer to see continuity rather than change” when it comes to Germany’s dealing with the Kremlin.

“I think it’s clear that in Moscow they preferred to deal with Berlin rather than Brussels,” he added.

Hannah Neumann, a European Union lawmaker for the German Green Party predicted that the issue of human rights will play a bigger role than under Angela Merkel and added that the Greens disagreed on Nord Stream 2.0 seconds of 0 secondsVolume 90% 

DW busts ballot box ‘fraud’ myths

German citizens cast their ballots for the German election on Sunday — but it was the vote of chancellor candidate Armin Laschet of the center-right Christian Democrats (CDU) that set social media buzzing after he broke the secret ballot system by folding his ballot paper incorrectly while casting his vote.

But observers with a keen eye also noticed another detail: The padlock on the ballot box was not properly secured. DW looks into the claims.

SPD keeps growing lead

As more votes are counted, the center-left SPD keeps growing its small lead over the center-right CDU/CSU from initial projections and exit polls. It now has a 1.2 percentage lead over the conservatives.

CDU/CSU: 24.5%
SPD: 25.7%
AfD: 10.5%
FDP: 11.5%
Linke: 5.0%
Greens: 14.3%
Other parties: 8.5% 

DW correspondent William Glucroft noted that nearly 1.4 million voters appeared to move from the center-right Christian Democrats to the SDP. 

A coalition ready ‘before Christmas,’ says SPD’s Scholz

German party leaders held a roundtable debate following the close of the elections. 

“I’ve always said that there is a lot of overlap with my neighbor,” center-left Social Democrat leader Olaf Scholz said, gesturing to Greens chancellor candidate Annalena Baerbock. 

“Just the two of us won’t be enough. I think it will have to be three parties. But let’s wait until all the votes are counted,” Scholz said.

The SPD leader declined to give a date for when a coalition would be formed, dismissing that as “absurd.”  But Scholz added that “it must be the case that I, that we, do everything to ensure that we are ready before Christmas.”

Armin Laschet, the leader of center-right Christian Democrats, called their drop in votes “not good,” laying partial blame on the losing of the advantage of incumbency.

Laschet also claimed a mandate for his party, saying: “The voters have given us the job to do. We’ll have to find commonalities probably between three political parties.”

“It’s not getting together a government using mathematics. We want a government where we end up with a coalition that we enjoy [being a part of]. What we need is an alliance that unifies Germany,” he said.

This is because the pro-business FDP walked out of talks between the CDU and the Green Party after a month of negotiations.

Markus Söder, leader of the Christian Democrats’ Bavarian sister CSU party, praised Laschet. He said he thought the CDU leader was treated unfairly, referring to the incident where Laschet was caught laughing amid a somber speech by German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

Annalena Baerbock said “we are a team in all the exploratory talks. We want to lead the country but we still have a clear mandate for the Green Party to implement what we want to do in the next government.” 

She dismissed suggestions that the result from the Greens that showed a drop compared to polls in the summer meant that co-leader Robert Habeck would now take up the reins as leader.

“These are very interesting times as we see the parties cautiously start talking to each other,” said Michaela Küfner, DW’s chief political editor.

“During the debating round this evening there was a lot of political currency being put on the table, with Armin Laschet stressing that all parties in a coalition need to deliver to their voters, as if to say ‘if you come into a coalition with the conservatives dear Greens and Free Democrats you will see a lot of points translating into policy and also a lot of ministries,'” Küfner reported from CDU headquarters Sunday evening. 

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