Exit polls put Merkel on course for 4th term
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives were on their way to a fourth consecutive term in office, exit polls indicated yesterday, in an election that brought a far-right party into the German parliament for the first time in more than half a century.
After shock results last year, from Britain’s vote to leave the European Union to the election of US President Donald Trump, many look to Merkel to rally a bruised liberal Western order and lead a post-Brexit Europe.
Her conservative bloc — the Christian Democrats (CDU) and its Bavarian allies, the Christian Social Union (CSU) — won 32.5 percent of the vote, making them by far the largest parliamentary group, according to an exit poll for broadcaster ARD.
Their closest rivals, the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD), slumped to 20 percent — a new post-war low. The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) stunned the establishment by finishing third and entering parliament for the first time with 13.5 percent.
Merkel, Europe’s longest-serving leader, will join the late Helmut Kohl, her mentor who reunified Germany, and Konrad Adenauer, who led Germany’s rebirth after World War II, as the only post-war chancellors to win four national elections.
She will have to form a coalition government — an arduous process that could take months as all potential partners are unsure whether they really want to share power with her.
Merkel campaigned on her record as chancellor for 12 years, emphasizing the country’s record-low unemployment, strong economic growth, balanced budget and growing international importance.
That’s helped keep her conservative bloc well atop the polls ahead of Martin Schulz’s Social Democrats.
In Berlin, which hosted its annual marathon yesterday, many streets were blocked and some voters had to cross the marathon route as runners zigzagged their way through the capital. A festive mood emerged, with local bands playing on street corners and bystanders cheering and applauding.
Merkel arrived in the early afternoon to vote with her husband Joachim Sauer, whose umbrella shielded them from the cold drizzle. Merkel nodded and smiled at reporters as they left the polling station but made no comment.
Schulz voted with his wife Inge in his hometown of Wuerselen in western Germany.
Many of the country’s 61.5 million voters had remained undecided until the very last moment, according to the polls.
Germany’s president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, had appealed to his fellow citizens to go out and vote because “these elections are also about the future of democracy and the future of Europe.”
Countries across Europe have seen a rise of anti-migrant and populist parties in recent elections.
The AfD led an aggressive campaign dominated by hostile slogans against migrants who arrived in the past two years.