Germany’s  center-left Social Democrats won the biggest share of the vote in a national election Sunday, narrowly beating outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel ‘s center right Union bloc in a closely fought race that will determine who succeeds the long-time leader at the helm of Europe’s biggest economy.

The Social Democrats’ candidate Olaf Scholz, the outgoing vice chancellor and finance minister who pulled his party out of a years-long slump, said the outcome was “a very clear mandate to ensure now that we put together a good, pragmatic government for Germany.”

 Election officials said early Monday that a count of all 299 constituencies showed the Social Democrats received 25.9% of the vote, ahead of 24.1% for the Union bloc. No winning party in a German national election had previously taken less than 31% of the vote.

Both Laschet and Scholz will be courting the same two parties: the environmentalist Greens, who were third with 14.8%; and the pro-business Free Democrats, who took 11.5% of the vote.

The other option was a repeat of the outgoing “grand coalition” of the Union and Social Democrats that has run Germany for 12 of Merkel’s 16 years in power, but there was little obvious appetite for that after years of government squabbling.

While the Greens improved their support from the last election in 2017, they had higher expectations for Sunday’s vote.Merkel, who has won plaudits for steering Germany through several major crises, won’t be an easy leader to follow.

Germany’s leading parties have significant differences when it comes to taxation and tackling climate change . Foreign policy didn’t feature much in the campaign, although the Greens favor a tougher stance toward China and Russia.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez sent early congratulations to Scholz.

“Spain and Germany will continue to work together for a stronger Europe and for a fair and green recovery that leaves no one behind,” he wrote on Twitter.For the first time since 1949, the Danish minority party SSW was set to win a seat in parliament, officials said

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