1. Angela Merkel won a fourth consecutive election
Angela Merkel has won a fourth term — a feat to match Helmut Kohl, the father of German reunification.
Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union (CSU) won 33% of the vote, according to provisional results.
But, the CDU/CSU dropped 8.5 points compared to 2013. The result is the parties' lowest score since 1949.
The CSU’s result is particularly notable. The party, which only competes in Bavaria, won 39% of the vote in the southeastern region, 10 points less than in 2013.
Merkel’s grip on power is undoubtedly weaker than it was going into the election, and there will be voices in her party, and in the CSU especially, that will push for a shift to the right.
Still, her 2013 result was the exception. A good proportion of that vote has returned to the liberal FDP. Sunday’s result is not too dissimilar to Merkel’s 2005 and 2009 election victories, and exit poll data also shows that Merkel remains by far the most popular among Germany’s party leaders.
The CDU/CSU won 12.5 points more than their main opponents, the Social Democratic Party (SPD). Merkel won her first election, in 2005, by one point.
2. A far-right party winning so many seats is an important moment
The Alternative for Germany (AfD) is the first far-right party to enter parliament with a significant number of seats in 65 years. The AfD won 12.6% of the vote and 94 seats – and with those seats will come financial resources and greater visibility.
The far-right party managed to win a number of direct mandates in several constituencies, and was the largest party in the state of Saxony.
Much of the AfD’s strength is concentrated in East Germany, where the party came second. It also performed well in parts of Bavaria, as well as in traditional left-wing strongholds.
“We will hunt Frau Merkel … and we will reclaim our country and our people,” Alexander Gauland, an AfD leader, said after Sunday’s result.
The AfD has been mired in controversy: Nationalist rhetoric and themes of the past have resurfaced, candidates’ social media profiles reveal evidence of far-right extremism, and the party has shifted its focus from Europe’s financial crisis to immigration and identity. It ran a campaign based mostly on an anti-migrant and Islamophobic platform.
By any measure, it is an important moment.
The jury is now out on whether increased scrutiny of AfD’s extremism, and ongoing infighting between top candidates (one of its leaders announced on Monday that she wouldn't sit with the party in parliament), will hurt the party's chances of growing further. But controversy and outrageous statements during the campaign didn’t damage the AfD too much.
Still, the AfD result should be looked at in context: 60% of AfD voters opted for the party as a form of protest, according to exit poll data.
The result also comes after Germany welcomed more than 1 million refugees. Populist and nationalist parties in countries that have taken in far fewer refugees have garnered far greater support than the AfD.
Somewhat paradoxically, the AfD was strongest in areas with fewer migrants.
3. The election campaign made a difference
The German election was described by many as “boring”, but the polls clearly show that the campaign made a difference. Support for the CDU/CSU and the SPD dropped in the weeks leading up to election day, while the AfD’s popularity increased. The trend continued into election day, and the AfD’s final vote share wasn’t much off the party’s average score.
The untold story during the campaign is what caused the shift to take place over the space of a few weeks. The suggestion that Merkel lulled voters into complacency doesn’t hold. Turnout was 76.2%, a nearly five-point increase compared to 2013. More than a million AfD voters previously supported smaller parties or indeed didn’t cast a ballot four years ago.
4. Fragmentation has come to German politics
The combined vote share of Germany’s two largest parties has just registered a postwar low. This is mostly because of the SPD’s 20.5%, the party’s worst ever result. The SPD's collapse is consistent with a deep crisis that has engulfed many of Europe’s social democratic parties in recent elections from the Netherlands to France.
Meanwhile, all the other parties that made it into parliament improved their share of the vote. The kind of fragmentation seen elsewhere in Europe has made its way to Germany.
Still, government coalitions and alliances between different parties are the rule in Germany. Should the SPD continue to rule out another grand coalition with the CDU/CSU, Merkel will need to look to an alliance with both the FDP and the Greens — a so-called Jamaica coalition.
A Jamaica coalition would be a first. It would also be difficult to glue together: FDP and Green voters are anathema to each other when it comes to economic policy. The CSU and the Greens aren't natural bedfellows either. A stable coalition could be months of negotiations away.
In a country that prides itself on political stability, and tends to shy away from experiments, the implications, be they positive or negative, of a very different parliament and government to Germany's most recent past are difficult to predict.
Alberto Nardelli is Europe editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Alberto Nardelli at email@example.com.
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