Toronto Star

Uncertain start to post-Merkel era after close German election

Vote with no clear direction creates economic precarious­ness


BERLIN—The party that narrowly beat outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s bloc pushed Monday for a quick agreement on a coalition government, but Europe’s biggest economy could still be in for weeks of uncertaint­y after an election that failed to set a clear direction.

Olaf Scholz, the candidate of the centre-left Social Democrats, called for Merkel’s centrerigh­t Union bloc to go into opposition after its worst-ever result in a national election. Both parties finished with well under 30 per cent of the vote, and that appeared to put the keys to power in the hands of two opposition parties — raising questions over the stability of a future government.

Armin Laschet, the Union’s candidate, rejected the idea the election gave any party a clear mandate and made clear he still hopes to lead a new government. But he sounded considerab­ly less confident Monday than he did a day earlier, when he said his bloc would do “everything we can” to form one — and some allies hinted at skepticism if that happened.

Whoever becomes chancellor will lead Germany into a new era. During Merkel’s 16 years in office, she was seen abroad not just as Germany’s leader but in many ways as Europe’s, helping steer the European Union through a series of financial and political crises and ensuring her country maintained a high profile on the internatio­nal stage. It remains to be seen whether the next chancellor will match her global standing.

The unclear result, combined with an upcoming French presidenti­al election in April, creates uncertaint­y — at least for now — in the two economic and political powers at the centre of the EU, just as the bloc struggles with how to counter Russia and China, revamp its relationsh­ip with the United States and address questions about its future from populist leaders in eastern countries.

Scholz, the finance minister and vice-chancellor, pulled his party out of a long poll slump to win Sunday. Laschet, the governor of North Rhine-Westphalia state, stumbled in a campaign strewn with missteps.

But the kingmakers are likely to be the two prospectiv­e junior partners in any coalition, the environmen­talist Greens and the business-friendly Free Democrats. The Greens traditiona­lly lean toward the Social Democrats and the Free Democrats toward the Union, but neither ruled out going the other way.

“Voters have spoken very clearly,” Scholz said. “They strengthen­ed three parties — the Social Democrats, the Greens and the Free Democrats — so this is the visible mandate the citizens of this country have given: These three parties should lead the next government.”

 ?? ?? “Voters have spoken very clearly,” Olaf Scholz said of his centre-left Social Democrats.
“Voters have spoken very clearly,” Olaf Scholz said of his centre-left Social Democrats.

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