Last updated: Sep 28, 2021 at 11:02 a.m. ET
A U-shaped logo with the colors of the German flag.

German Election 2021

Germany’s parliamentary elections on Sept. 26 signaled the end of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s 16 years in power. With Merkel deciding not to seek reelection, it is the first postwar vote where the incumbent chancellor has not fought for a new term. Preliminary results suggest her absence deeply hurt her Christian Democratic Union party.

Its traditional center-left rival, the Social Democratic Party, came out on top for the first time in more than a decade and a half. Olaf Scholz says that his win gives him a mandate to try and form a government, but his conservative rival for the chancellor job, Armin Laschet, has still signaled he will try and form one too. That’s despite leading his conservative party to its lowest share of the result since its founding after World War II.

Neither leading party has anywhere near the power to govern alone and is courting the support of the same two parties to govern. So it will likely mean weeks, if not months, of negotiations before we know the political future of Europe’s largest economy.

Preliminary results

Number of votes and percentage of total vote received by eachparty
Pct. votes
Social Democrats
Christian Democrats
The Greens
Free Democratic Party
Alternative for Germany
The Left

These numbers are preliminary results, provided by the Federal Returning Office (Bundeswahlleiter). The percentages are not expected to change, but the number of seats each party ultimately holds might grow as overhang seats are calculated.

Possible coalitions

The possible coalitions below are based on seats in parliament each party is projected to win and will differ from the party's share of the overall popular vote. Parties need to meet one of several conditions to gain seats in parliament, known as the Bundestag.

No party is expected to win even close to an outright majority and take control of parliament. The winner will need to build a coalition with other parties. That could be a long and messy process.

Ideological splits make some options untenable. All parties have ruled out a coalition with the far-right Alternative for Germany party, which won 13 percent of the vote in the last national elections in 2017.

After the 2017 election, it took more than five months for a new government to be sworn in, after record-breaking coalition talks. So even when the election results are in, it may still not be clear who will succeed Merkel as the next chancellor. Results are rounded.

Traffic Light Coalition

50% seats for a majority



If the SPD comes out on top, it could turn to the pro-business Free Democratic Party to make a “traffic light” coalition along with the Greens. But with the Free Democratic Party as kingmaker, it could make for rocky coalition talks.

Jamaica Coalition




If the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) comes out on top and can't make a coalition with a single party, an option is a three-way alliance of the CDU, Greens and Free Democratic Party known as "Jamaica," named after the three colors of the Jamaican flag. But attempts to make a "Jamaica" coalition collapsed in 2017 after the Free Democratic Party walked out of talks.

Grand Coalition




This is Germany’s current ruling coalition. But it does not appear favored by either side now.

Red-Red-Green Coalition




SPD candidate Olaf Scholz has declined to rule out a coalition with the left-wing Die Linke (The Left), but says he doesn’t favor the option. He is likely mindful of alienating more centrist voters who still associate the party with its roots in Communist East Germany.

Germany Coalition




Named after the colors of the German flag: the possibility that the CDU and the SPD fail to get a majority between them and join forces with a smaller party like the Free Democratic Party.

Kenya Coalition




Another flag reference. This time, the two traditional big-tent parties, the CDU and SPD, turn to the Greens.

Black-Green Coalition




A Christian Democratic Union-Greens coalition once looked like a probable election outcome. But both parties have slumped in the polls and are unlikely to muster enough of the vote between them.

Red-Green Coalition




The Social Democratic Party (SPD) says the Greens would be its preferred coalition partner. And the Greens also say it’s the alliance it wants. It’s unclear whether the two parties would have enough seats in the new parliament to form a government on their own.

Black-Yellow Coalition




The CDU and Free Democratic Party would be natural bedfellows in any coalition. But this scenario would need a late surge by both parties to give them enough seats.

The Candidates

Illustration of Armin Laschet
Armin LaschetChristian Democratic Union of Germany - CDU

Laschet, 60, is now leader of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and premier of Germany’s most populous state, North Rhine-Westfalia. He tussled with the leader of the CDU’s smaller sister party, the Christian Social Union, for their joint nomination for chancellor and won out, despite being the far less popular of the two among the public. He has stumbled on the campaign trail, including an incident in which he was caught on camera laughing during a memorial to victims of deadly floods in July.

Illustration of Olaf Scholz
Olaf ScholzSocial Democratic Party of Germany - SPD

Scholz, 63, is a familiar face to Germans as the country’s finance minister and vice chancellor under its current two-party coalition government. A technocrat not known for his charisma, some have dubbed him “Scholzomat” for his dry, mechanical tone. Yet he has emphasized his government experience and run a steady campaign.

Illustration of Annalena Baerbock
Annalena BaerbockAlliance 90/The Greens - GRÜNE

Baerbock, 40, is a rising star with the Greens. When her nomination was announced earlier this year, she looked like she had a shot at becoming chancellor. But she has come under fire from rivals for a lack of experience in governing and became embroiled in disputes including accusations of plagiarism. Baerbock has espoused a tougher foreign policy line when it comes to dealing with Russia and China.

Other parties and players

Illustration of Christian Lindner
Christian LindnerFree Democratic Party - FDP

Christian Lindner is likely to become a key figure in coalition talks. Lindner has made clear he will leverage as much as possible for his party from any kingmaker position.

Illustration of Janine Wissler and Dietmar Bartsch
Janine Wissler and Dietmar BartschThe Left - DIE LINKE

Die Linke has been around since 2007, formed from the remnants of the successor of the ruling party of communist East Germany. This association makes it hated by some. Wissler, 40, is the party’s co-leader and Bartsch, 63, is the leader of its parliamentary group. Among its more controversial policies is a call to dissolve NATO.

Illustration of Alice Weidel and Tino Chrupalla
Alice Weidel and Tino ChrupallaAlternative for Germany - AfD

The far-right Alternative for Germany, or AfD, stormed into parliament four years ago as the country’s third-biggest party. It whipped up support with a hard-line anti-immigrant stance during the 2015 migrant surge, when Germany opened its doors to more than 1 million refugees. The nominations of Weidel, 42, and Chrupall, 46, as the top candidates was seen as a win for the AfD’s more hard-line fringe. It has vowed to fight coronavirus restrictions.

How the election works

The German electoral system is very complicated. Every voter casts two ballots. The first vote goes to their constituency representative and the second vote determines the composition of the Bundestag through proportional representation.

By: Sophie Andrews, Peter Andringa, Alexis Barnes, Aaron Brezel, Jason Bernert, Lenny Bronner, Mohar Chatterjee, John Cherian, Hong Du, Armand Emamdjomeh, Alanna Flores, Holden Foreman, Dylan Freedman, Simon Glenn-Gregg, Daniel Hoerauf, Jason Holt, Aditya Jain, Emily Liu, Paige Moody, Deblina Mukherjee, Anthony Pesce, Erik Reyna, Jeong Shin, Ashlyn Still, Kavya Sukumar and Susan Tyler

Previous contributors: Madison Dong, Jess Eng, Shana Hadi and Isabelle Lavandero

Source: DPA