German election: Merkel vows to win back right-wing voters

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The German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said she wants to win back the voters who deserted her party for right-wing nationalist AfD.

Mrs Merkel is now set for a fourth term in office, and said she would still talk to the Social Democrats.

They have ruled out another coalition with Mrs Merkel, meaning she may turn to the liberals and Greens.

After winning its first parliamentary seats, AfD vowed to fight “an invasion of foreigners” into the country.

“We want a different policy,” co-leader Alexander Gauland said following the historic surge.

But splits have already emerged between AfD leaders on the party’s direction. There were surprising scenes at the party’s news conference on Monday morning when chairwoman Frauke Petry, the best known AfD politician, announced that she would not be part of the AfD bloc when she joins the Bundestag.

Mrs Merkel’s conservative CDU/CSU alliance recorded its worst result in almost 70 years.

On Monday the chancellor said she had wished for a better result in general.

“We have started to analyse the voters we lost, especially with regards to those who went on to vote for the AfD, we want to get them back by good politics and addressing some of the issues,” Mrs Merkel said.

As she inches towards negotiations to form a new coalition government, she said her party would speak to the liberal FDP and the Greens, “but also the SPD, as we governed together for a long time and it’s always important to keep talking”.

At his news conference on Monday, Martin Schulz, the leader of the Social Democrats (SPD), repeated his firm assertion that his party would go into opposition.

The party, which is currently the junior partner in a grand coalition with the CDU/CSU, suffered historic losses, gaining its lowest share of the vote since the war.

“We fought for issues that we will keep fighting for, as a strong parliamentary opposition,” Mr Schulz said.

He accused Mrs Merkel of operating “sleeping pill politics” which “allowed a vacuum to develop which now other forces and parties have capitalised on”.

“Germany is getting the confrontation that Angela Merkel has denied and refused to allow for years,” the SPD leader said.

He was referring to the unexpectedly large numbers of AfD MPs that have been elected – the party, which only formed four years ago, is expected to take 94 seats in the 709-seat federal parliament as the third-largest grouping.

AfD’s campaign capitalised on a backlash over Mrs Merkel’s decision to open Germany’s borders to undocumented migrants and refugees in 2015, mainly from the Middle East.

Its success has shocked Germany’s political establishment, and protests against the anti-Islam party have been held in several cities following the election result.

What are the coalition options?

Mrs Merkel’s conservative alliance has the largest number of seats and will form the next government – as the left-leaning parties together do not come remotely close to a parliamentary majority.

As working with AfD MPs would be unthinkable, and the SPD has apparently ruled itself out, the most likely scenario is a “Jamaica” coalition, so-called because of the colours of Jamaica’s flag and the traditional colours of the German political parties.

Such a coalition – which has never been tried at the federal level – includes the black CDU/CSU, the yellow, business-friendly Free Democrats (FDP) – who are returning to parliament after a four-year hiatus with 80 seats – and the Greens (67 seats).

This combination could lead to prolonged horse-trading, as the Greens and FDP disagree on key policy issues.

Mr Schulz, meanwhile, has vowed to prevent AfD from being the main opposition party and enjoying certain privileges as a result.

But the SPD’s stance has drawn the ire of other party leaders.

The FDP’s Christian Lindner said the Social Democrats’ “rash and sudden decision to stay in the opposition in parliament is irresponsible”.

The liberal FDP has been in government for more of Germany’s post-war history than any other party.

After failing to win any seats in 2013, they have re-entered the Bundestag and will have 80 MPs.

The Greens, who increased their MPs to 67, said they were “deeply troubled” by the AfD being in parliament.

Regarding possible coalition talks, co-leader Katrin Göring-Eckardt said “negotiations between these four parties will be tough, it won’t be easy”

The process of forming a new coalition could take months.

Why did AfD gain support?

Alternative for Germany was founded in 2013 as an anti-euro party but later turned its focus to immigration and Islam.

It called for a ban on minarets and declared Islam incompatible with German culture. Several of its candidates have been linked to far-right remarks.

Those hardline positions helped it to win seats in 13 of Germany’s 16 state parliaments in the last few years.

Its election campaign posters carried messages such as “Stop Islamisation. Vote AFD” alongside images of women wearing burkas, and “Burkas? We stand for bikinis”.

It performed particularly well in what was formerly East Germany, taking 21.5% of the vote as the second most popular party.

In Saxony, AfD narrowly beat the CDU to come out on top with 27% of the vote. According to analysis by broadcaster ARD, the AfD vote was highest among 35-44 year-olds, at 16%, and lowest among those above the age of 70, at 7%.

German media’s ‘nightmare’

By BBC Monitoring

“Nightmare win for Merkel” was the headline in Germany’s best-selling tabloid Bild, which published a picture of a tired-looking chancellor with her eyes shut.

Tanit Koch wrote in the paper that Merkel had “failed to ease concerns about crime and Islamisation”. She said these fears had existed long before the refugee crisis of 2015 but politicians were “too genteel” to address them and AfD had “harvested the fruit”.

Merkel’s refugee policy was also seen as a crucial factor by Ulf Poschardt in Berlin’s Die Welt broadsheet. He said that while it was “disastrous” that the “left opposition in the Bundestag” had not attacked the policy, the media were also to blame. “Broadcasts, articles and debates ignored many citizens,” he added.

Berlin’s left-wing Tageszeitung, meanwhile, focused on AfD leader Alexander Gauland with the headline “The rise of the scaremongers”.

“The retros, the racists – now they’re in,” was the paper’s warning. It said AfD would be provocative, as they would “spread anxiety and stoke aggression”.

As to Mrs Merkel forming a government with the Greens and the Liberals, ARD TV’s Thomas Baumann is sceptical, saying he cannot imagine what kind of “basic melody” such an alliance between ideologically different parties would produce.

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