After the conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) suffered a bruising defeat in Germany’s most populous state on Sunday, the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) came out feeling like the night’s winners.
The vote cost Chancellor Angela Merkel’s centre-right coalition its majority in the upper house of parliament just eight months after she won re-election.
The conservatives won 34.6 percent, which would be their worst result ever in the state, though they still received the most votes. Meanwhile their pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP) allies won 6.8 percent, leaving them well short of a majority.
The SPD garnered 34.5 percent, just one-tenth of a percent below the CDU’s results, and not enough to form a coalition with the environmentalist Greens, who won 12.1 percent of the vote. Just one seat shy of a majority in the state legislature, the result leaves the SPD with a difficult path to power.
The CDU could use its small lead to insist on forming the government, but this is seen as unlikely.
Instead, the SPD could either create a grand coalition with the CDU, or form an alliance with the Greens and the socialist Left party – which managed to get its first seats in the state legislature after winning 5.6 percent of the vote. But the grand coalition is undesirable far-left members of The Left are seen as untouchable by many politicians.
A third option, the so-called “traffic light coalition” including the SPD, Greens and Free Democrats – whose party colours are red, green and yellow respectively – is unlikely after the FDP ruled it out during the campaign.
The options are “not easy,” head of the state’s SPD party Hannelore Kraft told broadcaster ARD on Monday, explaining that the party’s first task would be meeting with the Greens before further discussing their options.
“We will discuss that together calmly within the party,” she said.
Though Kraft called The Left party “incapable of governing” during her campaign, limited options mean there may be a new will within her party to cooperate with the hard-line socialists in order to avoid forming a grand coalition.
Kraft also made a push for the position as state premier, saying that current CDU state premier Jürgen Rüttgers should leave based on the election results.
“This premier has clearly been pushed out of office – we have a clear responsibility to lead this state,” she said.
But according to broadcaster ARD, Rüttgers may not go quietly.
“I want to take on the responsibility for both premier and state party leader,” he told the station, though he admitted his party had suffered a “bitter defeat” and accepted responsibility for the results.
“I will also talk about our mistakes, which we will remedy,” he said.