German Chancellor Angela Merkel secured a fourth consecutive term on Sunday after her Christian Democrats (CDU) and the allied Christian Social Union (CSU) won the largest parliamentary bloc with 33 percent of the vote.
Merkel’s conservative bloc will be by far the largest parliamentary group, official preliminary results showed, france24.com reported.
Their closest rivals, the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), slumped to 20.5 percent – a new post-war low – while the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) finished in third place with 12.6 percent of the vote, securing its first seats in the Bundestag.
The result for the anti-immigrant AfD marks by far the strongest showing by a nationalist party in Germany since World War II with commentators calling it a ‘watershed moment’ in the history of the German republic. The top-selling Bild daily spoke of a ‘political earthquake’.
AfD supporters gathered at a Berlin club, cheering as public television reported the outcome, many joining in a chorus of the German national anthem.
Hundreds of protesters rallied outside, shouting ‘Nazis out!’ while smaller AfD demonstrations were held in other cities across the country.
Merkel must now form a coalition government – an arduous process that could take months as potential partners weigh whether they want to share power with her.
She struck a pragmatic tone when she spoke to supporters in Berlin shortly after initial results were announced. “Of course we had hoped for a slightly better result,” Merkel said. “But we mustn’t forget that we have just finished an extraordinarily challenging legislative period, so I am happy that we reached the strategic goals of our election campaign.”
“We are the strongest party; we have a mandate to build the next government – and there cannot be a coalition government built against us,” she added.
Her erstwhile partner, the SPD, announced that it was not interested in joining a coalition soon after exit poll results were released. Merkel’s CDU has ruled with the SPD as its junior partner in a ‘grand coalition’ marked by broad agreement on major topics, from foreign policy to migration.
Martin Schulz, SPD party leader and Merkel’s main challenger, told the ZDF broadcaster: “We cannot have an extreme right-wing party leading the opposition in Germany, therefore … we will go into opposition,” he said, adding: “Our role is quite clear: We are the opposition party.”
Merkel must therefore look to the business-friendly Free Democrats (FDP), which staged a comeback to take 10.5 percent of the vote, as well as the Greens with their 9.5 percent.