Angela Merkel has won her fourth term as German chancellor, but her coalition partners for the last four years, the Social Democrats, have likely received their worst result since World War II. The right-wing populist AfD has secured more than 13 percent of the vote.
For the past several months, it was clear that the German election wasn't going to be much of a cliffhanger. And that expectation was met in spades on Sunday as the first projections emerged soon after the polls closed at 6 p.m., with Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives easily outpacing the center-left Social Democrats as the country's strongest party. The result will send Merkel to her fourth term in the Chancellery.
Nevertheless, Sunday's vote marks a significant shift in German politics, with initial projections showing the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party winning over 13 percent of the vote, thus becoming the first overtly right-wing party to win seats in the country's federal parliament in over half a century. The result slightly outpaces the most recent public polling data -- and is a far cry from the 7 percent the AfD had been polling at as recently as mid-summer -- and it means the party will send close to 90 deputies to the Bundestag, Germany's parliament.
Those deputies are almost certain to change the debate culture of the Bundestag. Lawmakers like Alexander Gauland, who has repeatedly made headlines for his racist comments targeting blacks and Turks, and Jens Maier, an extreme right-wing historical revisionist, will almost certainly ratchet up the rhetoric in what has long been a relatively staid if stodgy plenary. One of the key things to watch as the next parliament begins its work will be how the other parties choose to react.
An Historical Loss
The Social Democrats (SPD), meanwhile, appear to have fallen to their worst result since World War II, with initial projections indicating that under 21 percent of voters have cast ballots for the party. The result is particularly disappointing due to the party having been led in the campaign by Martin Schulz, the former president of European Parliament who is well-liked in the country, if not widely seen as inspiring. When Schulz initially announced his candidacy in January, the SPD immediately shot up in the polls, pulling almost even with Merkel's conservatives. But Sunday's result, if it holds, is even lower than the 23 percent the party won in 2009.
After polls closed on Sunday, Schulz ruled out a continuation of the grand coalition and said it was a "bitter day" for Social Democrats in Germany. He also said that he would like to continue on as head of the party and lead the SPD into opposition in the Bundestag. Regarding the AfD's result, he said: "It is a turning point and no democrat can simply ignore it."
Merkel, meanwhile, was having to contend with a relatively poor showing of her own. Her conservatives have managed around 33 percent of the vote, a far cry from the 41.5 percent they received four years ago. "Of course we had been hoping for a better result," she said to cheering supporters on Sunday evening. But, she added, "we have a mandate from the voters to build the next government.
Aside from the AfD, Sunday's biggest winner appears to be the business-friendly Free Democrats. After years of failing to clear the 5 percent hurdle in state vote after state vote, party head Christian Lindner has managed to turn the party around, with initial projections showing an impressive 10 percent or higher. Rounding out the initial projections are the Left Party, with 9 percent of the vote, and the Green Party, with just short of 9.5 percent.
Merkel's Next Steps
While the results are likely to change as electoral districts begin to report actual vote counts, the speculation will now begin in earnest regarding what Merkel's next governing coalition might look like. She has made it extremely clear in recent days that she will under no circumstances work with the AfD, and her conservatives also won't consider a partnership with the far-left Left Party. But all other combinations are possible.
And they are likewise all challenging. The Social Democrats are far from eager to join Merkel once again, particularly given that the party's two worst election results since World War II have come directly on the heels of playing the role of Merkel's junior coalition partner. Furthermore, a 20 percent result is likely to send the SPD into a prolonged bout of navel gazing and leadership shuffling.
Absent a grand coalition, however, Merkel would have to slap together a government including both the FDP and the Greens, a trio that has never before been seen at the national level, though such a coalition has been tried out at the state level. Making such a "Jamaica Coaltion" -- so named because of the colors associated with the parties involved (CDU black, FDP yellow and green) are the same as those on the Jamaican flag -- more difficult is the fact that the FDP, having only recently emerged from its decade-long malaise, may not have sufficient experienced politicians to serve in a cabinet.
© SPIEGEL ONLINE 2017
All Rights Reserved
Reproduction only allowed with the permission of SPIEGELnet GmbH