On a desolate night for the CDU after the German elections, a comforting Armin Laschet told party supporters that he had won a national mandate to resist a left-leaning government. For all the ebullience of the centre-right Leader, it was his political rival Olaf Scholz who triumphantly claimed the greatest prize.
As the SPD candidate for Chancellor, Scholz led the Social Democratic Party to a tight victory, netting just under 26 per cent of the vote and besting the CDU/CSU by less than 800,000 votes nationwide. The result was a dramatic 180-degree from the 2017 election, when the SPD registered its worst numbers in the post-war era.
A moderate on the social democratic spectrum, the employment law specialist, served as Vice Chancellor in the Merkel government that just ended. Politically cautious, discreet, and soft-spoken Scholz suggests a leadership in the style of Angela Merkel coupled with a conservative approach to public finances. He has been, after all, finance minister since 2018, navigating the country through economic storms of the pandemic with a €130 billion stimulus package and accelerating negotiations on the EU’s €750 billion recovery fund.
He was catapulted to the top of the SPD after publicly criticising Martin Schulz in 2017 and leading calls for the party to explore a possible compromise with Merkel. As leader of the social democrats at the time, Martin Schulz refused to enter into a coalition with the CDU, before eventually stepping down and paving the way the CDU-SPD-FDP administration.
If he is to succeed Merkel, Olaf Scholz will have big shoes to fill not only on the Federal stage but the global one two. But the former mayor of Hamburg, represented the port city and country abroad multiple times. And unlike Merkel, the SPD leader showed on victory night that he is happy to engage with international media in English.
Scholz has been in the political circuit long enough to be aware of the challenges that lie ahead. But it is, perhaps, that same experience that convinced the biggest number of German voters to place their trust in him.
As much as an SPD win could be seen as a closure of the Merkel era, the appointment of Olaf Scholz as Chancellor may be interpreted as an encore to her career.
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