Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel's center-right Christian Democratic Union-Christian Social Union bloc narrowly lost Sunday's national election to the center-left Social Democrats, election officials said early Monday in Berlin. With all 299 constituencies counted, the Social Democrats won 25.9 percent of the vote, the CDU bloc won 24.1 percent, the Greens came in third with 14.8 percent, and the business-centered Free Democrats earned 11.5 percent. No winning party in post-World War II German had ever taken less than 31 percent of the vote, The Associated Press reports.
Social Democrats leader Olaf Scholz claimed victory and said voters had returned "an encouraging message and a clear mandate to make sure that we get a good, pragmatic government for Germany." A more subdued CDU bloc leader Armin Laschet declined to concede, noting that "it hasn't always been the first-placed party that provided the chancellor."
Both parties will likely try to form a coalition government with the Greens and Free Democrats. Scholz, the outgoing vice chancellor and finance minister, and Laschet, governor of North Rhine-Westphalia state, said they will try to form a government by Christmas. In the meantime, Merkel, who is retiring after 16 years as chancellor, will stay on to lead a caretaker government.
"Whatever coalition ends up in power, Germany's friends can at least take heart that moderate centrism has prevailed, and the populism that has taken hold in other European countries failed to break through," Reuters reports. The far-right Alternative for Germany got 10.3 percent of the vote, down from 12.6 percent in 2017, and the post-communist Left party got 4.9 percent.