Merkel’s Christian Democrat-led bloc took 32.5% to defeat Martin Schulz’s Social Democrats, whose 20% is its worst result since the war, the exit polls for national broadcasters ARD and ZDF showed on Sunday. Merkel’s bloc dropped some nine percentage points from the last election in 2013 to record its worst result since 1949.
The principal beneficiary was the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany which joins the pro-business Free Democrats, the Greens and the post-communist Left in the Bundestag after it channelled voter rage at Merkel for allowing some 1.3 million migrants to enter the country since 2015. The AfD’s 13.5% in the exit poll means it stands to become the main opposition party in the lower house, the Bundestag.
“This is a bitter defeat for the SPD, and at the same time it’s a historic watershed in our democracy," Thomas Oppermann, the Social Democrats’ caucus chairman, said on ARD television. The SPD has decided to go into opposition and not renew the grand coalition with Merkel’s party that has governed for the past four years, he said.
The result offers Merkel just one route to govern: adding the environmentalist Greens to a coalition with the Free Democrats, her party’s traditional allies with whom she governed from 2009 to 2013, in a so-called Jamaica coalition—so named as the party colours of the CDU/CSU, the Greens and FDP match those of the country’s flag. While it’s a combination previously untested at national level, such a government was formed this year in the state of Schleswig-Holstein, and the chancellor has kept tabs on the region’s progress ever since.
“Jamaica is doable," Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the CDU state prime minster of Saarland, told broadcaster ZDF.
Even as she faces the most splintered parliament in modern German history, Merkel’s record-equalling fourth term in a national election marks a revival of sorts of her political fortunes from the depths of the refugee crisis. It puts Germany’s first female leader and the first from the formerly communist east on track to match former Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s record of 16 years in office.
“A year and a half ago, people were talking about her exit—and here we are," Carsten Nickel, an analyst at Teneo Intelligence in Brussels, said in an interview. “Given the electoral changes in western Europe, to be able to control this changing field from the political centre is impressive. It shows how completely she dominates the scene."
All the same, the first task for Merkel, 63, is to forge a coalition that enables her to govern, a process that’s likely to take months. Once a government is in place, Merkel will face huge global expectations -- from shoring up the euro area together with France, to setting Europe’s tone in its dealings with the U.S. under President Donald Trump, and tackling the diesel-emissions crisis that threatens Germany’s dominance in producing luxury cars.
The better-than-forecast performance of the Free Democrats allows them to re-enter the Bundestag after a four-year absence. While there is speculation that the FDP’s relatively hardline stance toward Europe could threaten efforts to work with French President Emmanuel Macron on euro-area integration, “this argument is often overdone," according to Holger Schmieding and Florian Hense at Berenberg in London, who say the party’s views would likely moderate over time.
Schulz’s defeat to Merkel means the Social Democrats haven’t won an election since 2002, and raises a question mark over his fate as leader. Schulz, 61, a former president of the European Parliament, appeared a formidable contender when the SPD pulled virtually even with Merkel’s bloc soon after he entered the race in January.
But his surge quickly faded and he failed to convince voters to turn their backs on Europe’s longest-serving leader, who projected herself as a force for stability in a world buffeted by concerns from North Korea’s atomic weapons program to uncertainty over the US direction under Trump.
The Alternative for Germany’s two lead candidates, Alice Weidel and Alexander Gauland, revelled in provocations as they capitalized on the legacy of Germany’s biggest refugee influx since the war.
Founded as an anti-euro party opposed to financial bailouts for Greece and other southern European nations, the Alternative for Germany narrowly missed out on Bundestag seats four years ago. With new leadership and a campaign focused on immigration—its platform demands shutting the border to new asylum seekers and calls Germany’s Muslim majority “a great danger to our state"—it succeeded in tapping into a well of discontent with Merkel’s policies.
“This is in a way a defeat for Merkel—it’s a form of punishment," Carsten Brzeski, chief economist at ING-Diba in Frankfurt, told Bloomberg Television. “It shows that a lot of people weren’t very satisfied with Merkel. They wanted to teach Merkel a lesson." Bloomberg