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German Elections: Far-Right AfD Set To Gain First Seats With Third Place Finish

Angela Merkel to claim a fourth term as Chancellor, but nationalists win big.

24/09/2017 17:12 BST | Updated 24/09/2017 20:29 BST

The radical right-wing party AfD looks set to enter the German parliament for the first time after exit polls signalled it will finish in third place in the country’s  national election.

While Angela Merkel looks set to claim a fourth term as German Chancellor, Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) is on course for more than 13 per cent of the vote - a share that guarantees seats in the German Parliament. It will mean it sends close to 90 deputies to the Bundestag.

Fabrizio Bensch / Reuters
German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The exit polls put Merkel’s conservative bloc in a position to lead the country for a fourth term, winning between 32.5 and 33.5 percent of the vote according to exit polls conducted for public television channels ARD and ZDF.

They indicate challenger Martin Schulz’s Social Democrats trailed in second place with between 20 and 21 percent support.

In just four years, AfD has gone from a eurosceptic party, focussing on rolling back the Eurozone, to a fiercely anti-Islam one whose leader said, as hundreds of thousands of refugees arrived, that police should shoot migrants dead if they tried to cross the border.

Who Are The AfD? It Could Be The First Radical Right Wing Party In Germany’s Bundestag Since 1945

Several other parties managed to cross the 5 per cent threshold to enter parliament, including the pro-business Free Democratic Party and environmentalist Greens.

The co-leader of the AfD, Alice Weidel, says her party will provide “constructive opposition” as other parties in parliament have pledged not to work with the AfD. 

Green co-leaders Katrin Goering-Eckardt and Cem Ozdemir told supporters that there were “again Nazis in parliament”.

Goering-Eckardt told the cheering crowd: “We will not let one single attack on German democracy stand.”

Merkel will now likely seek to partner with the Free Democrats and Greens to form a government ― an untested alliance known as the “Jamaica coalition” because of the parties’ colors. Another possibility was a continuation of the so-called “grand coalition” between the CDU and the SPD, but the latter decided to rule out any partnership and attempt to rebuild itself as the main opposition party. 

Merkel conceded that “of course we would have preferred a better result, that’s completely clear.” But she noted that her party has been in power for 12 years and said the last four years have been “extremely challenging.”

Although Merkel’s victory in the vote was fairly certain, the election did see fractures emerge in Germany’s established party system as the two largest parties lost seats to smaller political movements. The shift was similar to other European elections this year, such as France and the Netherlands, where once prominent parties suffered massive defeats. As in those elections, Germany’s vote also resulted in significant gains for the far-right.

The anti-immigration, anti-Islam AfD has become the first far-right party to enter German parliament since World War II.

The AfD’s rapid rise since its founding in 2013 has brought once-fringe views back into Germany’s politics, including ethnonationalist ideology that has long been taboo in the country. Post-war Germany had previously shunned far-right parties, as they evoked the trauma and crimes of Nazism. 

Axel Schmidt / Reuters
Co-lead AFD candidates Alexander Gauland and Alice Weidel.

Establishment politicians like Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, SPD leader Martin Schulz and even Merkel herself all spoke out against the AfD during the campaign. Gabriel went as far as to compare the party to Nazis, a rare and serious accusation in modern German politics.

The AfD campaign relied heavily on criticism of Merkel’s decision to allow over a million asylum seekers into Germany at the height of Europe’s refugee crisis in 2015. Despite facing some backlash to her policy and giving fodder for the far-right, Merkel’s approval ratings rebounded in the ensuing years.

Earlier in the day, mainstream German political parties urged voters via Twitter to cast their ballots against the AfD.

Using the party’s German initials, AfD, the Social Democratic Party tweeted Sunday: “The AfD is a right-wing extremist party that doesn’t belong in parliament. Talk to your friends and relatives. And get voting!”

AfD’s Frauke Petry, a party chairwoman, fired back in a tweet of her own: “Live with it comrades, the trend to the left is over today.”

The Greens also targeted the AfD, saying “For integration and tolerance! For a clear YES to a strong Europe! Against right-populism and AfD!”

To that Petry answered: “The bill for your hate tirade will be punctually at 1800” — or 6 p.m., when the polls close in Germany.