Germany’s deadlock election highlights voters’ generational divide

Angela Merkel is staying on as interim German chancellor after the country’s election ended in virtual deadlock. Talks aimed at establishing a new coalition government are underway, but could take months. Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports from Berlin.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Angela Merkel is staying on as interim German chancellor after the election to pick her successor ended in virtual deadlock.

    Talks to establish a new coalition government are under way, but that could take months.

    Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant is in Berlin for us tonight.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Judy, political analysts here believe that it could be several months before the German people learn of the composition of their next government.

    The two leading competing parties are now embarking on a series of long negotiations, during which they hope to be able to forge a governing coalition.

    After 16 years of conservative Angela Merkel, the bells were signaling a change of German leadership, but how much difference were voters prepared to tolerate as they waited in long lines for the tightest election in years?

  • Thorben Schultz, Entrepreneur:

    I think it's quite important that there's some change. I think Germany has been sleepwalking a bit in the past decade. And I think that's got to change, in terms of climate change, but also in terms of other things, like in terms of providing a vision for Europe, for example, and for Germany's place in the world.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    In Bavaria in Southern Germany, where some donned traditional dress for the ballot, voter Franz Bader signalled resistance to radical change.

  • Franz Bader, Voter (through translator):

    What the Greens are up to is a bit too exaggerated for my liking. As a result, I voted for a party that puts the brakes on the Greens a bit. The thing is, I have nothing against climate protection. But we, small Germany, can't do it alone. It costs too much.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    A marathon race caused significant disruption in Berlin. Swathes of the capital were sealed off, making it difficult for voters to reach polling stations.

    Some people were still queuing to vote once the polls closed just before dusk. The loudest cheers came from the center-left Social Democrats, who secured 26 percent of the vote, which made theirs the most popular party. That means leader Olaf Scholz is most likely to be the next chancellor, as long as he can find sufficient coalition partners.

  • Olaf Scholz, Leader, Social Democrats (through translator):

    We are a pragmatic party that knows how to govern. We are a confident party that wants to work to ensure that we have a better future in Germany.

    But we have also shown that we have what it takes to govern a country. That is unity supported by everyone, and that this was the case.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    It was a painful night for the man who replaced Angela Merkel as leader of the center-right Christian Democrats. Armin Laschet had a lackluster campaign, and his party trailed by 2 percentage points, in second place.

    But there's still a chance he might become chancellor if he can forge new alliances.

  • Armin Laschet, Leader, Christian Democratic Union (through translator):

    We will do everything possible to build a conservative-led government, because Germany, Germany now needs a future coalition that modernizes our country.


  • Malcolm Brabant:

    There were mixed emotions among the environmentalist Greens. They are certain to be included in a coalition government. But because their share of the vote was less than expected, leader Annalena Baerbock acknowledged that they won't be as powerful.

  • Annlena Baerbock, Leader, German Green Party (through translator):

    But, tonight, I believe we cannot just rejoice. For the first time in this federal republic, we set out to shape this country as a leading force. We wanted more. We did not achieve that, also because of our own mistakes at the beginning of the election campaign.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    A bar popular with politicians and policy wonks buzzed as they watched German democracy take its course. But students Maya Ruerbeck and Lukas Willer were drowning their sorrows.

  • Maya Ruerbeck, Student:

    There could have been much more votes of change. But what we see in this election is that the older generations dominate our voting results, that we, as a younger generation, have very little say, and that there's a lot of people who still want the status quo.

    And I believe that the status quo cannot be upheld in the current circumstances.

  • Lukas Willer, Student:

    We cannot keep on living the way we have been living the last 50 years. And I feel like the older generation, the generation of my parents, but also my grandparents, they don't understand that, like — that massive changes in our living standards need to be made in order for us to keep this planet, basically.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Another student, Henry Axel Brauer, supported the business-friendly liberals, who will demand concessions from the environmentalists in a future coalition.

  • Henry Axel Brauer, Student (through translator):

    We need to combine economic and climate issues and stand up for ourselves better in Europe and on the international stage.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    After this election, Germany isn't likely to change much, says of Jana Puglierin the European Council on Foreign Relations.

    Jana Puglierin, European Council on Foreign Relations: We are very much set up for a middle-of-the-road approach. I think it will be increasingly difficult to govern because for, the first time, we will see a three-party coalition on the national level, more compromise, and it will be difficult to bridge some issues like on financial and economic policy.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Thirty-two years after the Berlin Wall came down and Germany was reunified, the country is once again split in two. The division is between the generations.

    It seems older Germans don't seem to share young people's sense of urgency over climate change. Their desire for policies, aimed at saving the planet, may be watered down still further once the politicians cement their new uncomfortable liaisons.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Malcolm Brabant in Berlin.

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