Friday, September 21, 2018
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German election: Angela Merkel on track for fourth term

Exit polls show Angela Merkel's coalition bloc winning 33.5 percent of the vote in country's national election.

Chancellor Angela Merkel

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is projected to win a fourth term in office, according to exit polls, which also predicted that an overtly nationalist party will enter parliament for the first time in decades. 

Exit polls by public TV stations ARD and ZDF put support in Sunday's vote for Merkel's centre-right Christian Democratic Union party at around 33 percent, down about nine percent compared to the last election in 2013.

Their main rival and current coalition partner, the centre-left Social Democrats led by Martin Schulz, got around 21 percent of the vote - their worst result in post-war Germany.

But the biggest change to Germany's political scene was the emergence of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party as the country's third biggest political force with 13.2 percent of the vote. 

The pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) bounced back into parliament with 10.1 percent of the vote, while the environmental Greens scored 9.2 percent and the leftist Die Linke picked up 8.9 per cent.

Addressing supporters at party headquarters, Merkel, who will now have to find now coalition partners, said she hoped for "better results".

"Let's not beat around the bush, of course we would have preferred a better result, that's completely clear," Merkel said after the announcement of the exit polls.

"But let's also not forget that we have just come out of an extraordinarily challenging legislative period," Merkel added. 

Far-right enters parliament

The far-right, anti-immigrant party was founded just four years ago as an anti-euro force. Its manifesto included a pledge to ban all mosques and criminalise people wearing the veil.

Under Merkel's leadership, Germany opened its doors to about a million asylum seekers at the height of Europe’s refugee crisis in 2015, prompting fierce criticism from the AfD leadership, who say her stance has had an unacceptably high fiscal, social and administrative cost.

Nina Schick, political analyst at consultancy firm Hanbury Strategy said, it is "very important to keep things in perspective" when analysing the AfD's election performance, citing a "huge change" in German society in the wake of the refugee crisis. 

"The fact they are on 13 percent, yes it's a kickback, a reaction to what's happened to the German society but the other side of the coin is that a million refugees and asylum seekers came to the country and are being integrated into society and millions of Germans are helping them to learn the German language and try to get jobs," she said.

"So it’s not as bad as some might think given the huge change that Germany faced with the refugee crisis."

Coalition talks

Forming a coalition government is expected to be an arduous process for Merkel that could take months as all potential partners are unsure whether they really want to share power with her.

Schulz ruled out a re-run of Merkel's existing alliance with the SDP after the centre-left party's disappointing results. 

"It's perfectly clear that the electorate has directed us to go into opposition," Schulz said.

An alternative coalition for Merkel would be a three-way tie-up with the FDP and the Greens. That is a combination as yet untested at national level.

Both the FDP and the Greens have played down the prospect of a coalition, but as they have been out of government for four and 12 years respectively, they may be lured into an alliance by the prospect of power.

"It will now be much more challenging for her to build a coalition in the first place because she will have to deal with two different parties, with different cultures," Olaf Boehnke, senior adviser at Rasmussen Global, said.

"There is very leftish wing in the Greens party, and there is a very conservative, even close to nationalism, wing in the FDP," he added.

Pointing to the big drop in support for Merkel's Christian Democrats, Boehnke argued that the chancellor was both the "winner and the loser" of the election.

"And this also makes here as a coalition partner quite unattractive to her new potential coalition partners because she always manages to ruin them, in a way, as we are now seeing with the SPD," he said.

Merkel campaigned on her record as chancellor for 12 years, emphasising the country's record-low unemployment, strong economic growth, balanced budget and growing international importance.

The election victory sets the 63-year-old on course to match Helmut Kohl’s record as the longest serving leader in German’s post war history.

Polls opened at 8am (06:00 GMT) and closed at 6pm (16:00 GMT) with turnout slightly lower than four years ago.

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