Olaf Scholz elected to succeed Angela Merkel as German chancellor

Former Hamburg mayor secures 395 of 736 delegates’ ballots in parliamentary vote

Olaf Scholz will succeed Angela Merkel as Germany’s new chancellor after securing a majority of 395 of 736 delegates’ ballots in a parliamentary vote on Wednesday morning.

Scholz will oversee a liberal-left “traffic light” coalition government between his Social Democratic party (SPD), the Greens and the liberal Free Democratic party (FDP), the first power-sharing agreement of such a kind in Germany, and the first governing alliance with three parties since 1957.

Scholz, a former mayor of Hamburg and finance minister in Merkel’s final term, secured 21 fewer votes than the 416 seats the three coalition parties have in the Bundestag, though several politicians were absent from the vote because of illness.

Wearing a bordeaux red tie, the Social Democrat politician removed his black mask to accept the vote. Amid applause, delegates congratulated Scholz with fist bumps, handshakes and flowers. One gave him a basket of red apples.

Several politicians from Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, which plummeted to its worst result in German history at September’s national vote, also took the opportunity to congratulate Scholz on social media.

The conservatives’ failed chancellor candidate, Armin Laschet, who not only lost the election but will make way as party leader next spring, tweeted: “Even if we fought for a different result, we can count ourselves lucky that there is so much mutual respect between democrats in this country.”

After the vote Scholz headed to the Bellevue Palace residence of the German president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, to be formally appointed.

By noon, he was back in the Bundestag to take his oath of office, swearing to use the powers bequeathed to him “for the good of the German people”. Scholz, who was raised in a Protestant household but later opted to leave the church, declined to utter the optional final line of the oath, “So help me God”.

As he became the first politician to re-fill the empty government benches vacated by Merkel’s team of ministers, Scholz bowed his head in front of the parliament in a show of humility.

Guests watching the ceremony from the visitors’ gallery included the former chancellor Gerhard Schröder, Scholz’s wife, Britta Ernst, his parents, Gerhard and Christel Scholz, and his brothers Jens and Ingo.

The new government was finally announced in parliament at 1:30 pm, after which the ministers in Scholz’s cabinet took their oaths.

The gender-equal new cabinet contains several firsts: women will for the first time hold Germany’s foreign and interior ministries, with the Green politician Annalena Baerbock in the former and the Social Democrat Nancy Faeser in the latter. The defence ministry will be held by Christine Lambrecht, the third consecutive woman in the role.

The agriculture minister, Cem Özdemir, of the Green party, will be the federal republic’s first minister with Turkish roots.

As the names of the new ministers were read out, the loudest cheer echoed around the chamber at the mention of Germany’s new health minister.

Karl Lauterbach, a studied epidemiologist and Harvard graduate who has been a mainstay of television panel debate throughout the pandemic, has become a hate figure for Germany’s anti-vaxxers and lockdown sceptics but was desired by many as the most qualified politician for the job in the health ministry.

Merkel, too, watched proceedings from the visitors’ gallery. The outgoing chancellor, who is ending her political career and will not continue as an MP, received a standing ovation from almost all delegates in the last minutes of her tenure. Only members of the far-right Alternative für Deutschland remained seated.

As the new president of the Bundestag, Bärbel Bas, read out the names of all delegates eligible to vote for the new chancellor, a mask-wearing Merkel scribbled furiously on a notepad.

Merkel’s final day as chancellor was her 5,860th day in office, falling short of the record set by her late former mentor Helmut Kohl by a mere ten days.

Merkel will formally hand over her offices at the chancellory in central Berlin to Scholz and his team on Wednesday. The cuboid building opposite the parliament, nicknamed the “federal washing machine”, has been the seat of German leaders since 2001, making Scholz only the third chancellor to govern from its premises.

Germany’s new head of government is expected to make his first trip abroad as soon as Friday, when he will also attend the “summit for democracy” hosted by the US president, Joe Biden, via video link. During September’s election campaign, Scholz had stated he would follow the example set by Merkel and make his first trip abroad to Paris.

Germany’s new chief diplomat, Baerbock, had vowed to make Brussels her first destination in office, and there have been reports in German media she could make a brief trip to the seat of the European Commission on Wednesday afternoon or Thursday.

On Saturday and Sunday, Baerbock is due to attend a meeting of G7 foreign ministers in Liverpool, where she could introduce herself to her colleagues from Britain, France, the US, Italy, Japan and Canada.

Scholz’s new spokesperson and representatives of the 14 federal ministers will hold their first press conference on Monday, in keeping with a thrice-weekly question-and-answer session with the media.

Merkel’s spokesperson, Steffen Seibert, has indicated his intention to withdraw from politics, with his tweets from the official government handle to be archived.


Philip Oltermann in Berlin

The GuardianTramp

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