Far-Right German Party Gains Historic Electoral Ground

Merkel's weakened party cedes parliamentary turf over dissatisfaction with the country's migrant crisis

by Kathryn Blackhurst | Updated 25 Sep 2017 at 10:22 AM

Although German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her center-right party emerged with both the chancellorship and the majority of parliamentary seats after Sunday’s elections, national dissatisfaction and populist concerns over mass migration catapulted a far-right party into parliament for the first time in six decades.

The Germans elected Merkel to her historic fourth term as chancellor, while her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party won a projected 33 percent of the available seats — 218 — in the Bundestag, The Guardian reported. Meanwhile, the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) clinched a projected 138 seats, roughly 20 percent of the seats. And in a shocking turn of events for Merkel, the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party snatched a projected 13.5 percent of the vote with 87 seats.

Merkel acknowledged she and her depleted party would need to learn how to work with the AfD.

"We have had 12 years of governmental responsibility and it was not a foregone conclusion that we would be [the] largest party again," Merkel said, as The Guardian reported. "We will conduct a very thorough analysis; we want to regain those voters who voted for the AfD, to discover their concerns and worries."

"We need to work now for a just and a free country. That means we need to bring together all of the [European Union] countries to fight against the causes of migration and to fight illegal immigration," Merkel added. "It is clear that the topic of security is as much a worry for people as the topic of prosperity."

The populist-driven AfD party was founded in 2013 and was fueled by anti-European Union and pro-nationalist sentiments. After Merkel initiated her "open door" refugee and migration policy in 2015 that opened Germany's borders to more than one million immigrants, the AfD embraced national security concerns and expanded its influence.

Washington Post opinion writer Charles Lane tweeted Sunday after viewing a German exit poll, "Nearly one half (49%) of ALL German voters said right-wing AfD 'understood better than the others that people no longer feel safe.'"

For her part, Merkel told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper in late August that she would do it all "the same way again" when it came to her "open door" policy, if given the chance.

"I'd make all the important decisions of 2015 the same way again," Merkel said then. "It was an extraordinary situation and I made my decision based on what I thought was right from a political and humanitarian standpoint."

While CDU's Sunday showing marked a significant disappointment from the 41 percent of the vote it earned back in 2013, SPD's results represented its worst outcome since the 1940s. In addition, the 2017 voter turnout rose from 71.5 percent in 2013 to 76.5 percent as Germans voiced their concerns and cast their ballots.

"Of course we had hoped for a slightly better result. But we mustn’t forget that we have just completed an extraordinarily challenging legislative period, so I am happy that we reached the strategic goals of our election campaign," Merkel said, Reuters reported. "We are the strongest party, we have the mandate to build the next government — and there cannot be a coalition government built against us."

With her new government taking shape, Merkel faces four years of heightened ideological divisions with the AfD's arrival and the reemergence of the pro-business FDP party that won roughly 10 percent of the vote. To make matters worse for Merkel, the SPD party, which allied itself with the CDU during the last four years in a "grand coalition," plans to end the partnership.

"For us, the grand coalition ends today," SDP politician Manuela Schwesig told ZDF broadcaster. "For us it’s clear that we’ll go into opposition as demanded by the voter."

In order to push her agenda along, Merkel's CDU party may need to form a "Jamaica" coalition (named because of the parties' black-yellow-green colors) with the FDP and the Greens, which won approximately nine percent of the vote. But this coalition, though tested at local levels, has never been tested in the federal government, The Guardian noted.

(photo credit, homepage and article images: Olaf Kosinsky)

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