German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday gave a boost to Social Democrat Olaf Scholz by congratulating him on his victory in the legislative elections, as an alliance between the center-left, the Greens, and the Liberals look increasingly likely.
The chancellor, who is preparing to retire from politics after 16 years in power, spoke for the first time since her party's historic defeat on Sunday in a brief statement.
She congratulated Olaf Scholz, leader of the center-left and deputy chancellor of the outgoing government, "on his success" in the legislative elections, in which the Social Democratic Party (SPD) came out slightly ahead of the conservative CDU/CSU union with 25.7% of the vote.
These congratulations were sent on Monday, the day after the elections, his press office said.
This Wednesday Armin Laschet also congratulated him, according to anonymous sources in his party. But Laschet still wants to form a government, with the support of the Liberals and the Greens.
Since the election, criticism has been mounting among the ranks of the conservatives over their leader's stubbornness in wanting to lead a coalition, despite the fact that the center-right only won 24.1% of the vote, coming in second place and down nearly 9 points from 2017.
Merkel took her distances on Wednesday, a day after the unpopular Laschet was already more or less abandoned by her Bavarian allies.
"Olaf Scholz has a better chance of being chancellor at the moment, clearly," said their leader Markus Söder. But Laschet, a Rhineland native known for his tenacity, won't budge.
On Tuesday, at a meeting of his parliamentary group, he apologized for the disappointing election result, but at the same time reaffirmed that "no one had the right to declare himself the main winner," according to several German media.
More and more observers doubt that he can hold on much longer. "I don't think Armin Laschet will survive this week," said FDP deputy chairman Wolfgang Kubicki. "The pressure is mounting," he assured.
For their part, the Social Democrats reiterated their call to quickly form a coalition with the Greens and the FDP, which won 14.8% and 11.5% of the vote respectively.
The two formations "should be prudent enough to accept our offer to quickly start exploratory talks" with a view to an alliance, said Rolf Mützenich, re-elected head of the SPD parliamentary group on Wednesday.