Merkel set for fourth term as chancellor as CDU leads parliamentary vote, exit polls say

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 32.5 percent of the vote, exit polls showed

Merkel’s conservative bloc will be by far the largest parliamentary group, according to an exit poll for the ARD broadcaster.

Their closest rivals, the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD), slumped to 20 percent – a new post-war low – while the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) finished in third place with 13.5 percent of the vote, securing its first seats in the Bundestag.

The anti-immigrant AfD’s strong showing marks the first time a far-right party has entered the German parliament since the end of World War II.

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.

As Europe’s longest-serving leader, Merkel now joins the late Helmut Kohl, her mentor who reunified Germany, and Konrad Adenauer, who led Germany’s rebirth after World War II, as the only post-war chancellors to win four national elections. The woman dubbed the “eternal chancellor” is now on track to match Kohl’s impressive 16-year reign.

For many in the West, Merkel’s victory comes as a relief in an increasingly turbulent world, with hopes high that she will serve as a cool-headed counterweight to both US President Donald Trump and Russia’s Vladimir Putin as well as being a key EU ally to reformist French President Emmanuel Macron.


But the AfD’s record election result is sure to bring a new set of challenges, as Germany and other Western nations struggle with a resurgent right wing.

“We may have many challenges to address, notably the arrival of the far right in parliament,” Merkel said Sunday evening. “We will conduct a detailed analysis, because we want to win back the far-right vote by responding to their questions with appropriate policies.”

“The AfD’s entry into the Bundestag marks an epochal step forward for the far right,” said Joerg Forbrig of the German Marshall Fund, a US think tank, in comments ahead of the vote.

By entering parliament, “the xenophobic, revisionist and anti-European political force” will have heightened visibility and access to campaign financing, dozens of offices and hundreds of staff.

‘Democracy stress test’

After a “vicious” campaign, in which the AfD demanded an end to German guilt over the two world wars, Forbrig warned in an article for Politico that “German democracy is about to face its biggest stress test ever”.

At Merkel’s final stump speech Friday in the southern city of Munich, right-wing activists tried to drown her out with whistles and chants of, “Get lost”.

But the 63-year-old refused to be derailed from her stability-and-prosperity mantra, telling the crowd that “the future of Germany will definitely not be built with whistles and hollers”.

Schulz, for his part, has recalled with pride the SPD’s history of resisting the Nazi regime and told a Berlin rally that “this Alternative for Germany is no alternative. They are a shame for our nation.”

Aside from the populist noise, the past two months of campaigning have been widely criticised as lacklustre, with few hot-button issues dividing the main contenders.

The more outspoken Schulz, former president of the European parliament, told voters to reject Merkel’s “sleeping-pill politics” and vote against “another four years of stagnation and lethargy”.

But in greying Germany, the low-key and reassuring message of stability and prosperity pitched by Merkel’s conservatives may have proved enticing to the more than half of Germany’s 61 million voters who are age 52 and over.

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(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS and AFP)