Tuesday 21 November 2017

German voters turn to the far right as main parties lose ground on immigrants

AfD co-leader Alice Weidel addresses supporters in Berlin after the first exit polls in the German general election. Photo: Reuters
AfD co-leader Alice Weidel addresses supporters in Berlin after the first exit polls in the German general election. Photo: Reuters

Patrick Donahue

Angela Merkel won a fourth term as German chancellor in a victory that was marred by her party recording its worst result since 1949 as voters lifted the far-right AfD into parliament.

Yesterday's federal election saw support hollowed out for the two main parties - Ms Merkel's Christian Democrat-led bloc and Martin Schulz's Social Democrats - as votes flowed to the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany, or AfD. It is a sign of the growing polarisation in Europe's biggest economy and six parties are now poised to enter the lower house, the Bundestag, for the first time since 1953.

The principal loser was Mr Schulz's Social Democratic Party, Ms Merkel's main challenger, which plunged to a postwar low. The party leadership immediately announced its intention to go into opposition and not renew the so-called grand coalition with Ms Merkel's party that has governed for the past four years.

The AfD outpolled the pro-business Free Democrats, the Greens and the post-communist Left to become the first far-right party in the Bundestag since the immediate post-war period. It channelled voter rage at Ms Merkel for allowing some 1.3 million migrants to enter the country since 2015.

"Clearly, we had hoped for a somewhat better result," but "we achieved the strategic targets of our election campaign," Ms Merkel said at her party's headquarters in Berlin. Apart from the challenge of the AfD, the task ahead was "first and foremost to ensure economic prosperity" and "to hold the European Union together and build a strong Europe," she said.

The result offers Ms Merkel two possible routes to govern: the first is to add 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 match those of the country's flag.

Angela Merkel (pictured) and Martin Schulz both fared worse than they hoped. Photo: Reuters
Angela Merkel (pictured) and Martin Schulz both fared worse than they hoped. Photo: Reuters

"Jamaica is doable," said Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the CDU state prime minister of Saarland.

For all their ideological differences, both the Greens and Free Democrats want to be in power, so "will make an effort to agree", said Famke Krumbmueller, a partner at political-risk consultancy OpenCitiz. "If that fails, then the only option would be with the SPD. That would force their hand, since the only other option is a new election."

Even as she faces the most splintered parliament in modern German history, Ms Merkel's record-equalling fourth consecutive victory in a national election marks a revival of sorts of her political fortunes from the depths of the refugee crisis. If she can move to heal some of the divisions, Germany's first female leader and the first from the formerly communist east may be on track to match former chancellor Helmut Kohl's record of 16 years in office.

All the same, the first task for Ms 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, Ms 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 US under President Donald Trump, and tackling the diesel-emissions crisis that threatens Germany's dominance in producing luxury cars.

Social Democratic Party SPD leader Martin Schulz. Photo: Reuters
Social Democratic Party SPD leader Martin Schulz. Photo: Reuters

Irish Independent

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