Merkel wins German election despite dramatic shift to right
Far-right party enters parliament for the first time in over 50 years
Christian Democratic Union party leader and German Chancellor Angela Merkel reacts on first exit polls in the German general election in Berlin. Photograph: Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters
Germany is facing a political earthquake after a historic election disaster for Chancellor Angela Merkel and her Christian Democratic Union (CDU), and a surge in support for the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD).
As polls closed across the country at 6pm, the AfD is forecast to take around 13.5 per cent to be the third-largest party in the next Bundestag with 88 seats, the first time that an extremist party has been elected to the German federal parliament.
In a dramatic shift right in German politics, exit polls put chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling centre-left Christian Democratic Union (CDU) around 32.7 per cent, down from 41 per cent in 2013, and its worst result since 1949.
Its outgoing junior coalition partner, the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD), is heading for opposition after its worst-ever result: around 20 per cent in exit polls.
Taken together, Germany’s two big parties lost an estimated 14 per cent combined.
The smaller parties are all scrambling for votes behind the AfD: the liberal, pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) will return to parliament after four years outside on a projected 10.5 per cent.
Exit polls put the Greens and Left Party on 9.5 and 9 per cent respectively.
With shock written on established politicians’ faces, the SPD ruled out supporting Dr Merkel’s CDU for a third grand coalition, making likely a so-called “Jamaica Coalition” of CDU, FDP and Greens.
It is known as the “Jamaica” option because the three parties’ colours are those of the black-gold-green Jamaica national flag.
CDU parliamentary floor leader Volker Kauder admitted his party hoped for a better result but that it had still managed to remained strongest party.
“No government can be formed against us,” he said.
“Angela Merkel will stay chancellor.”
SPD leader Martin Schulz called the AfD entry to the Bundestag a “rupture” in the history of post-war German parliamentary democracy and vowed to fight the party “with vehemence”.
“Today is a difficult and bitter day for social democracy,” said Mr Martin Schulz, SPD leader.
As Germany digested the first forecasts, more reliable projections will come as the evening wears on with an official, preliminary result in the early hours of Monday morning.
The campaign - and the result - was dominated by the fall-out of Germany’s 2015-16 refugee crisis, when Merkel allowed over one million asylum seekers into the country.
Though Germany has tightened up its refugee policies since then, her decision divides German public opinion like few others.
Analysis of the AfD vote showed a high protest vote of some 60 per cent, with just 31 per cent saying they voted for the party out of conviction.
Of around six million AfD voters, the party pulled in its largest support - over one million votes each - from non-voter and CDU camps.
Some 89 per cent of AfD voters, according to an ARD poll, voted for the party because they felt Dr Merkel had not taken seriously refugee fears.
Some 86 per cent said that 12 years of Angela Merkel was enough.
‘Merkel must go’
At election rallies around the country, most recently on Friday evening in Munich, the German leader had to shout down aggressive protestors protest blowing whistles and chanting “Merkel must go!”
At the AfD election party in Berlin, campaign co-leader Alexander Gauland was jubilant.
“The next government, regardless of how it is formed, can get ready: we will hunt them and hunt Mrs Merkel,” he said. “We will take back our country and our people.”
With the poll a quasi-referendum on Dr Merkel’s leadership, the strong showing for the AfD means a massive shake up the Berlin parliament in the years to come.
Founded four years ago as an anti-bailout party, the AfD has stabilised itself on the right-wing fringes of German politics by tapping concerns over the refugee crisis of 2015-16 that saw over one million people granted asylum.
The strong showing for the AfD will make life uncomfortable in the Bundestag for Dr Merkel, hoping for a fourth consecutive term for her centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU).