Armin Laschet’s hopes of leading Germany have descended into party strife, as key figures questioned his efforts to build a coalition despite losing the election.
Mr Laschet’s Christian Democrats (CDU) sunk to their lowest-ever vote share at Sunday’s election, coming second to Olaf Scholz’s Social Democrats (SPD).
But Mr Laschet still expressed hope of leading the next government, in a coalition with the Greens and the Free Democrats (FDP).
Markus Soeder, the Bavarian premier who lost a struggle for the party nomination to Mr Laschet in April, called on colleagues to acknowledge Mr Scholz’s victory.
He said the SPD should “make the next move” after Mr Scholz took the first steps towards a coalition with the two smaller parties.
“It’s important that you respect an election result. I congratulate Olaf Scholz for winning the most votes in Germany,” Mr Soeder said.
“Olaf Scholz, clearly, is the one who has the best chances of becoming chancellor at the moment.
“In case that doesn’t work out, we are ready for any conversation, because Germany has to be able to govern.”
Ellen Demuth, a regional CDU politician and former aide to leadership contender Norbert Rottgen, called on Mr Laschet to resign as party leader.
“Armin Laschet, you lost. Please show some insight. Avoid further damage to the CDU and resign,” Ms Demuth said.
Tilman Kuban, the head of the party’s youth wing, said: “We lost the election. Full stop.”
The CDU won 24.1 per cent of the vote at Sunday’s election. The SPD took 25.7 per cent.
Mr Laschet argued on Monday that the SPD lacked a clear mandate because its vote share was well below that of governing parties in decades gone by.
“No party can draw a mandate to govern from this election result, including us,” he said.
But he acknowledged that a result below 30 per cent of the vote was not satisfactory for the CDU, and accepted he was partly to blame.
The two kingmakers, the Greens and the FDP, began preliminary talks on Tuesday after agreeing to approach each other first.
Mr Scholz wants their support for what is known as a “traffic light” coalition because of the red, yellow and green colours of the parties.
Annalena Baerbock and Robert Habeck, the co-leaders of the Greens, met FDP chief Christian Lindner on Tuesday evening.
“In the search for a new government, we are sounding out agreements and bridges over disagreements,” Mr Habeck said. “And we’re even finding some. Exciting times.”
The new chancellor will have to be confirmed by a majority of MPs in the new parliament once a coalition deal is reached.
The talks are widely expected to take months. The constitution allows Angela Merkel, the outgoing chancellor, to stay on as a caretaker as long as necessary.