By Fred Pleitgen and James Masters
GERMANY (CNN) — Angela Merkel has won a fourth term as German Chancellor, but with her party’s lead in parliament cut and the country facing a surge in support for the far right.
Exit polls predicted the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) would become the third-largest party in the national parliament, the Bundestag, as German voters delivered a stinging blow to the traditional parties.
Merkel’s CDU and its sister CSU had their share of the vote slashed. Germany’s oldest party, the SPD, which had been in a “grand coalition” with Merkel, was consigned to opposition.
Addressing her supporters, a subdued Merkel said the result gave her a “mandate” to govern but that the AfD’s success would require “thorough analysis” to understand the concerns of their voters.
SPD leader Martin Schulz said the result was a “bitter disappointment” and the party would return to opposition. He lamented the success of the AfD, adding that it was a watershed moment.
The exit polls showed Merkel’s CDU/CSU group would be the largest in the Bundestag, but with its lead cut to 33.5 percent of the seats. The SPD fell to 21 percent , a result met with shock at the party’s headquarters.
AfD is predicted to become the first far-right party to win seats in the Bundestag since 1960, with about 13 percent of seats, according to FORSA polling institute data commissioned by German public broadcaster ZDF.
Addressing her supporters, Merkel pledged to try and understand the concerns of voters who lent their support to the AfD. “There’s a big new challenge for us, and that is the entry of the AfD in the Bundestag,” she said. “We want to win back AfD voters.”
Rise of AfD
The success of the AfD was declared as a “political earthquake” by Georg Pazderski, the local party leader in Berlin.
Figures show 21.5 percent of East Germans, including Berlin, voted for the far-right party, while 11% voted for the AfD in the West, according to exit polls done by Infratest Dimap.
Founded in 2013, the AfD has enjoyed a surge of support for its anti-immigration stance and its opposition to Merkel’s decision to open the country’s borders to over a million migrants, mainly those fleeing violence and persecution from the Middle East.
The AfD, which has also been accused of Islamophobia, garnered staunch support in east Germany where it became the second largest party after the CDU.
“For the first time, we have a conservative party right beside our Christian Democrats and this is because they moved more and more to the left and we moved into the vacuum,” Pazderski told CNN.
“It’s a good day for democracy for Germany and for Europe.”
Meanwhile, Alice Weidel, a leading AfD politician, told supporters she will keep her promise to call for a committee to investigate Merkel’s decision to allow more than a million refugees into the country in 2015.
She had repeatedly claimed that Merkel should be “punished” for her decisions during the refugee crisis.
“People have given us their trust and we will keep our promise,” she said.
With the SPD refusing to rejoin a coalition and no party willing to work with the AfD, it leaves Merkel with few options for a coalition.
The exit polls would suggest that Merkel may be forced to make a deal with the Green Party and FDP, to create a so-called “Jamaican coalition” — with the green and and yellow of the two parties combining with the black of the CDU to resemble the flag of Jamaica.
The pro-business FDP are expected to take 10% of seats with the Greens one percentage point behind on nine.
Coalition talks are unlikely to begin in earnest until final results have been announced on Monday.
To form a government, the parties involved must have a combined total of at least 50 percent of the seats in parliament.
There are likely to be several coalition options, and plenty of disagreement between the parties before they reach a deal.
Parliament will reconvene on October 24 with the new government in place.
(The-CNN-Wire ™ & © 2017 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.)