With the tenacity of a sore loser unwilling to accept his party’s crushing electoral defeat, conservative party leader Armin Laschet on Monday pressed on with his longshot hopes of somehow finding a path to power to lead the next German government — despite ridicule and criticism even from within his own defeated ranks.
Even though the centre-left Social Democrats, led by vice chancellor Olaf Scholz, beat the Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) at the ballot box for the first time in 19 years and only third time in 20 post-war elections going back to 1949, Laschet said he would nevertheless try to form a three-party coalition with two smaller parties — the pro-environment Greens in third place and the pro-business Free Democrats who finished fourth.
Laschet’s refusal to concede defeat and his unorthodox grab for power might seem strangely reminiscent of Donald Trump’s courtroom and public battles to remain president in the United States after losing last year’s presidential election. Yet Laschet’s attempt to cling to power despite his party’s worst-ever result is entirely legal in Germany and even with precedent.
“We’ve got a clear mandate and we’ll try to form a government under conservative leadership,” Laschet said late on Sunday even though his CDU/CSU finished with 24.1% and behind the SPD (25.7%) on its worst-ever result – a drop of 8.8 percentage points from the last election in 2017. He told conservative party leaders at a testy closed-door meeting in Berlin on Monday, according to a report in Bild newspaper, that they should keep trying to form a three-way government because opposition could damage the party. “Olaf Scholz isn’t king.”
Scholz, a centrist Finance Minister in his left-leaning party, brought the long-suffering Social Democrats back from the dead with an impressive, if colourless, campaign that stole a page from retiring Chancellor Angela Merkel’s playbook – stay calm, stay vague and don’t rock the boat. The SPD had fallen to a bleak 14% in opinion polls a year ago when Scholz volunteered to run -- to the amusement of friends and foes alike – how could a party with 14% backing ever dream of winning the chancellery? The SPD was still back in third place five weeks ago, according to voter surveys, before rising steadily to the top – in part due to blunders by Laschet and Greens’ candidate Annalena Baerbock.
Scholz brushed aside Laschet’s claims for power and said his SPD was the clear winner of the election. He said he felt it had the mandate to try to form a three-party government with the Greens and FDP. The Greens gained 5.9 percentage points to 14.8% and the FDP climbed 0.8 point to 11.5%.
“It’s quite clear that we’ve got the mandate to form a government with the parties that saw their shares of the vote rise in this election – the SPD, the Greens and the FDP,” Scholz told party supporters in Berlin. He later responded to Laschet’s reported “king” comments: “Parties that lose elections shouldn’t try to form governments.”
It’s a good idea to first see if the two parties furthest apart in the political spectrum can take a look to see what’s possible