Exit Polls: Germans Vote Far-right AfD Party Into Parliament, Merkel Headed for Fourth Term

Alternative for Germany is the most right-wing party to have been elected to the Bundestag in nearly six decades

Supporters of the Alliance 90/The Greens party react on first exit polls in Berlin, Germany, September 24, 2017
Supporters of the Alliance 90/The Greens party react on first exit polls in Berlin, Germany, September 24, 2017 STEFANIE LOOS/REUTERS

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats Union is projected in exit polls to have won the most votes in Sunday's parliamentary elections. The far-right Alternative for Germany party is set to become the third-largest represented, making it the most right-wing party to have been elected to the Bundestag in nearly six decades.

Merkel's conservative block – her Christian Democrats and their Bavarian allies, the Christian Social Union –won 32.9 percent of the vote, making them by far the largest parliamentary group, according to an exit poll for the broadcaster ARD, a substantial drop from the 41.5 percent the party won four years previously.

The Alternative for Germany (AfD) is projected to come in at 13 percent. In the last elections, the party did not reach the required 5 percent of votes expressed to enter parliament. AfD top candidate Alexander Gauland said: "The government, whatever it will look like, should get ready for tough times." He vowed to "hunt" Merkel and "take back our country and our people." 

The center-left Social Democrats (SPD) won 20.6 percent of the vote, according to an exit poll from public broadcaster ZDF, which would be the worst election result in its post-war history.

"That is a really bad result for the SPD. That is a heavy defeat," the Social Democrats' deputy party leader Manuela Schwesig told ZDF broadcaster, adding: "For us, the grand coalition ends today. For us it's clear that we'll go into opposition as demanded by the voter." 

The Liberal Free Democrats, who like AfD, did not garnish at least  5 percent in the last elections, won 10.6 percent of the votes. The Left Party and the Greens both received 9 percent of the votes, a slight increase from their respective 8.6 and 8.4 percent shares at the last elections.

Members of the Free Democratic Party (FDP) and the Greens say they are open to forming a three-way coalition with German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats, as the country digests initial election returns.

Such a grouping – referred to as a Jamaica coalition because the colors of the three parties are those of the Caribbean country's flag – would scrape together a majority of 51 or 52 per cent. But FDP deputy head Wolfgang Kubicki said his party would set demands before joining any coalition. "You can't just force us into a coalition," he told public broadcaster ARD.

Merkel wouldn't say whether she expects to form a new government by the end of the year, but has ruled out forming a minority government.

"I dont see that," said Merkel about the question of a minority government. "I have the intention that we should come to a stable government in Germany." 
Noting expected tough negotiations, she would not say whether those would produce a new government by the end of the year.

Merkel, Europe's longest-serving leader, joins the late Helmut Kohl, her mentor who reunified Germany, and Konrad Adenauer, who led Germany's rebirth after World War Two, as the only post-war chancellors to win four national elections. 

In regional votes last year, Merkel's conservatives suffered setbacks to the hard-right Alternative for Germany, which profited from resentment at her 2015 decision to leave German borders open to over one million migrants.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel told Der Spiegel last week that if AfD actually made it into the Bundestag, “Nazis will speak in the Reichstag for the first time in over 70 years.”

Those setbacks made Merkel, a pastor's daughter who grew up in Communist East Germany, wonder if she should even run for re-election. 

But with the migrant issue under control this year, she has bounced back and thrown herself into a punishing campaign schedule, presenting herself as an anchor of stability in an uncertain world. 

Turnout slipped slightly in the election despite politicians warning that apathy could boost the far-right, expected to return to parliament after a half century's absence, overshadowing Chancellor Angela Merkel's expected victory.

After shock election results last year, from Britain's vote to leave the European Union to the election of U.S. President Donald Trump, many look to Merkel to rally a bruised liberal Western order, tasking her with leading a post-Brexit Europe.

Some 41.1 percent of voters had cast ballots by 1200 GMT, the Federal Returning Officer said in a statement, down from 41.4 percent at the same time four years ago, suggesting not all had heeded the advice of President Frank-Walter Steinmeier. 

"It has perhaps never been as clear that the elections are about the future of democracy and Europe," he wrote in mass-market newspaper Bild am Sonntag, amid polls showing that as many as a third of Germans were undecided. 

"If you don't vote, others decide."

What happens now?

The new legislature must meet no later than 30 days after the election, which means a deadline of October 24. Until the newly constituted legislature meets, the existing coalition keeps the wheels of government turning.

When the new parliament meets, the longest-serving member of the Bundestag opens the session with a speech. Next is a vote to pick the president of the Bundestag. The new chancellor and his or her cabinet are usually voted in at a later session.

In 2013, Merkel only officially started her third term in the job on December 17 of that year, the fourth legislative session of that year and three months after voting concluded.

Members of the Free Democratic Party (FDP) and the Greens say they are open to forming a three-way coalition with German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats, as the country digests initial election returns.

Such a grouping - referred to as a Jamaica coalition because of the colours of the three parties - would scrape together a majority of 51 or 52 per cent.

But FDP deputy head Wolfgang Kubicki said his party would set demands before joining any coalition. "You can't just force us into a coalition," he told public broadcaster ARD.

Green parliamentary leader Anton Hofreiter said his party would be prepared to embark upon "very serious discussions" with other democratic parties.