October 7, 2021 - 3:32pm

German election results rarely produce a clear winner. It can take weeks, if not months, to form a new government afterwards, but there is a chance it could be different this time.

It seems as though plumes of white smoke are already rising from the smaller parties’ headquarters in Berlin and we might know the new government sooner than expected. If the early indicators are right, Angela Merkel’s successor will likely be Olaf Scholz, who will run the country with a centre-Left coalition.

As Scholz’s SPD won the election only narrowly with 25.7% of the vote compared to Angela Merkel’s CDU/CSU which came second with 24.1%, the smaller parties have been cast in the role of kingmakers in an effort to create a workable majority of over 50%. It is now almost certain that the Green Party (15%) and the Free Liberals (FDP, 11.5%) are going to be part of any new government.

Germany waited with bated breath what the two minor parties would decide. When the four leaders of FDP and Greens met without consulting the two established parties, it caught many by surprise. They were serious about winning power, in spite of the light-hearted selfie the four of them published shortly after.

The talks had been expected to be much more difficult than they were. The German Liberals are a centre-Right party with libertarian positions on economic and social policy and therefore not exactly natural bedfellows for the Greens, who stand relatively far Left of centre. The Liberals originally favoured a coalition with Merkel’s Christian Democrats — a tried and tested combination — even with the addition of the Greens added to the mix. The latter, on the other hand, prefer to work with Scholz’ Social Democrats as both are centre-Left parties.

But it is easy to see why the FDP did not need too much convincing to come around to the idea of building a so-called Ampel-Koalition (‘traffic light coalition’ — named after the colours of the SPD, FDP and Greens). Olaf Scholz is by far the most popular candidate to replace Merkel with around one-third of German voters preferring him while the CDU boss Armin Laschet languishes in the low teens in the polls.

In addition, the CDU now seem embroiled in a vicious internal power struggle as members are furious about the party’s lowest ever election result. Many deputies lost their seats and they deem Laschet responsible for this. As a party, they now make for an unappealing coalition partner while led by the deeply unpopular Rhinelander. This is made worse by the volatile nature of the party itself which means that potential coalition partners might have to work with a different leader in the future.

The SPD have now confirmed that they have been approached to open coalition negotiations with the Greens and Free Liberals. It seems the question is no longer if Olaf Scholz will be declared as the next German chancellor but when.

Katja Hoyer is a German-British historian and writer. She is the author, most recently, of Beyond the Wall: East Germany, 1949-1990.