German campaign takeaways and challenges

Christian Democratic Union CDU party leader and German Chancellor Angela Merkel reacts on first exit polls in the German general election (Bundestagswahl) in Berlin, Germany, September 24, 2017. Photo: Reuters

BERLIN - Chancellor Angela Merkel sailed to victory in Germany's general election on Sunday but her win was soured by the entry of an Islamophobic hard-right party to parliament and prospects of tough coalition talks.

 

 

Here are the first takeaways from the election and the looming challenges ahead.

Mixed victory

Merkel secured her fourth term, putting her on track to match the post-war record 16 years in office held by Helmut Kohl.

But the 32.5-33.5 percent that her Christian Democratic Union and Bavarian allies Christian Social Union was projected to obtain was a dampener as it falls well short of the 40-percent minimum that the conservative bloc set as a target.

Such a low score risks emboldening the voices of dissenters within her party and the more right-leaning CSU.

 

 

It would also complicate talks towards forming the next coalition.

Hard-right party arrives

The nationalist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party comfortably cleared the five-percent hurdle, marking the first time such an openly Islamophobic and anti-immigration hard-right party will enter parliament since World War II.

In an editorial headlined "Merkel, the mother of the AfD" before the election, Spiegel Online columnist Jakob Augstein said that she should have been voted out simply for failing to stop "the Nazis from entering the Bundestag" on her watch.

The AfD is credited with around 13 percent of the vote.

While the far-right has been part of Europe's political landscape for years, the presence of a nationalist party with candidates calling for Germany to stop atoning for its role in World War II smashes a taboo in the country.

All mainstream parties have ruled out working with the Islamophobic AfD, with Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel calling its leaders "real Nazis".

One of its leading candidates, Alexander Gauland, has claimed that "Islamist rhetoric and violence and terror have roots in the Koran and in the teachings of Islam".

He vowed on election night to "change this country".

 

 

Which government

Merkel and her conservative alliance's options for a future coalition are more complicated than thought.

After voters handed it its worst score in post-war history, the Social Democratic Party said it would not return to a coalition under Merkel.

That means that Merkel would have to look to the liberal Free Democrats (FDP), which has staged a comeback this year after four years in the political wilderness.

But scoring at around 10 percent, the business-friendly FDP does not have sufficient votes to form a majority with Merkel.

The chancellor would therefore have to include the Greens, which obtained around 9 percent of the vote.

But keeping cohesion between the right-flank of her party and Bavarian allies -- who are staunch defenders of the scandal-tainted automotive industry, and the environmental party calling for combustion motors to be phased out, would be only one of many tough issues to thrash out.

As such, no one should hold their breath for a coalition to emerge swiftly after the last votes are counted.

Negotiations for a new government are likely to drag on to year's end.

Which way forward

The shape of the next coalition will determine how Germany relates to Europe and the world.

This year's election campaign has been largely devoid of international issues.

But Germany has been dubbed a beacon of stability in a world buffeted by Donald Trump's election in the United States, Britain's decision to quit the European Union, and increasing friction within the EU over political tensions in Hungary and Poland.

As such, it is being asked to shoulder more international responsibilities, including through greater military engagement in the world's trouble spots.

"Germany is finding itself confronted with changes from elsewhere, and the geopolitical upheavals run counter to its traditional attraction to the east and its attachment to an alliance with the United States. It's a brutal change," said Jean-Dominique Giuliani, president of the Brussels-based Robert Schuman Foundation.

AFP

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