The centre-left contender to fill Angela Merkels shoes has announced his intention to forge a social-ecological-liberal coalition following Sundays knife-edge German national vote, as momentum slips from the outgoing chancellors own designated successor.
The voters have made themselves very clear, Olaf Scholz of the Social Democratic party (SPD) said at a press conference on Monday morning. He pointed out that his centre-left party, the Greens and the pro-business Free Democratic party (FDP) had all picked up significant numbers of new votes at the election, while the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) suffered a loss in support of almost nine percentage points.
And thats why we have a visible mandate that the citizens of this country have formulated, said Scholz, who is vice-chancellor in the outgoing government.
The Greens and the Free Democrats, who achieved 14.8% and 11.5% of the vote and could form a stronger bloc than either the SPD or CDU/CSU, have agreed to hold exploratory talks with each other before entering negotiations proper, the FDP leader, Christian Lindner, said on Monday.
As well as joining a power-sharing deal with the SPD, nicknamed traffic light after the parties traditional colours, the Greens and FDP could theoretically lend their support to a so-called Jamaica coalition with the CDU, led by its chancellor candidate, Armin Laschet.
As exit polls on Sunday projected the SPD and CDU to be tied in a dead heat, Laschet initially sounded bullish in his determination to lead the next government, saying we will do everything to form a government.
But after the SPDs lead increased as votes were counted and it went 1.6 percentage points ahead of the CDU, which also recorded its lowest-ever share of the vote, Laschet gave a more modest impression the next day, without ceding his claim completely.
While the result of the vote cannot, must not and wont satisfy the [Christian Democratic] Union, the CDU leader said at a press conference, it did not yield a government mandate for either of the largest parties.
Not only Social Democrats question Laschets analysis of the result. On Bild newspapers own television channel, the tabloids commentator Paul Ronzheimer said the Rhinelander gave the impression that he lives in a different reality.
Several conservative politicians who had backed the CDU candidate on election night distanced themselves from his boosterish determination on Monday morning.
Second place cannot be construed to amount to a mandate to form the next government, tweeted Markus Sder, the Bavarian state premier whom many conservatives had wanted to see run for the top job in Laschets stead. At a press conference, the southern German leader talked of a disappointing result and a defeat that cannot be sugarcoated.
I think a lot of voters were irritated by what Laschet said on Sunday, said the political scientist Andrea Rmmele on public broadcaster ARD. I think its dawning on them that that wasnt a particularly smart move.
The finance minister and deputy chancellor in Merkels last government, has been an influential player in German politics since 2002, when he became the centre-left Social Democratic Partys general secretary under Gerhard Schrder.
A former labour lawyer and deputy leader of the SPDs then anti-capitalist Young Socialist youth wing, the taciturn 63-year-old has for most of his career been associated with the partys right: as senator for the interior and then mayor of Hamburg, he often pursued strict law and order policies and continued the mercantilist traditions of the rich port city in Germanys north.
In the federal finance ministry, Scholz made sure not to shake German orthodoxies around balanced budgets. I am liberal, but I am not stupid, he once told an interviewer.
His supporters say the keen jogger is not only highly competent and a stickler for detail, but also more leftwing than his reputation. Along with his French counterpart Bruno Le Maire, he was one of the driving forces between the plan to introduced a global minimum corporate tax that was backed by the globes leading economies this summer.
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In Saxony, where the CDU ceded several constituencies to the far-right Alternative fr Deutschland (AfD), the state premier, Michael Kretschmer, described the outcome of the vote as an earthquake that did not give his party moral authority to lead the next government.
At this election the CDU was not the first choice, Kretschmer told the broadcaster MDR. There was a clear mood for change, against the CDU.
The Saxon leader blamed his partys poor result in the south-eastern region largely on the government handling of the Covid pandemic. Federal structures initially allowed his state to pursue its own course with social distancing rules, for example by ruling out closures of nurseries and primary schools. Later in the pandemic, state authorities were overruled by Merkels federal government.
Scholz, the frontrunner to eventually take over Merkels keys to the chancellory, said on Sunday evening he was confident there would be a new government by Christmas.
But the pace of coalition talks in the coming weeks will be unhurried and cautious, not least because the last time three German parties entered talks to share power in government, between the CDU, the Greens and the FDP in 2017, the experiment ended in failure.
On Monday, Scholz promised to approach talks in a very pragmatic and unboastful fashion.
Should Scholz be able to convince the Greens and FDP to enter coalition talks with his party first and on exclusive terms, a leisurely pace may also work in his favour. The fragile truce that has persisted among Germanys conservatives so far is unlikely to survive a protracted period of watching its historical rivals inch their way to power.
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