German Election

Live Blog: Angela Merkel's Chastened Victory

Federal election in Germany
Clapping, yes, but also some soul-searching. Source: Reuters

10:10 p.m. in Berlin

We are preparing to close down our live blog for the evening. We leave you with two very different international reactions. French far-right leader Marine le Pen tweeted her congratulations to the populist Alternative for Germany, calling the German party’s success a symbol of reawakening. By contrast, Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress, in a statement congratulated Angela Merkel on her fourth term, but warned that positions espoused by the AfD “display alarming levels of intolerance not seen in Germany for many decades and which are, of course, of great concern to German and European Jews.”

Ms. Merkel may have the fourth term she wanted, but there will be no doubt be some rough waters ahead. Check back with Handelsblatt Global in the coming days and weeks as we follow the twists and turns of coalition building, and analyze the issues that the next German government will need to address most.

10:00 p.m. in Berlin

The far right may have made it into parliament with a higher percentage than expected, but Germany’s elections are still likely to leave financial markets rather cold on Monday – especially compared to the French, British and US results of the past few years. “Germany’s fiscal and European policies will not change much,” regardless of the coalition that Angela Merkel winds up leading, according to Andrew Bosomworth of bond manager PIMCO. For their part, Germany’s business community has called for stability in government and a hard push-back against the Alternative for Germany. “The AfD in the German Bundestag harms our country,” said Ingo Kramer, head of Germany’s employers association.

Federal election in Germany
Alice Weidel, right, will do her best to make life difficult for Angela Merkel. Source: Reuters

9:30 p.m. in Berlin

What will one of the Alternative for Germany’s first actions in parliament be? AfD candidate Alice Weidel says she will initiate an investigation into Chancellor Angela Merkel. The chancellor, for her part, said she “will not shy away from any investigative committee,” but added that no party should spend the next four years focused on the past. “We should take care that we still have some time left over to deal with the country’s future,” she said in a debate with fellow party leaders on public broadcasters ARD/ZDF. One thing is sure: Debates in the new German parliament are going to be far more feisty than the last one.

9:20 p.m. in Berlin

Our summary of the night. Angela Merkel got her main prize, a fourth term in office. With that she enters the pantheon of Christian Democratic chancellors. But there’s another fact that will haunt her fourth (and most likely final) term: The other part of Germany’s new political reality is that the republic has shifted right, writes our editor in chief Andreas Kluth.

Bundestagswahl – Grüne
Will the Greens really join a coalition with the Free Democrats? Source: Tobias Hase/dpa

9:00 p.m. in Berlin

A first sign of how difficult Angela Merkel’s challenge will be in forming a coalition: Christian Lindner of the Free Democrats and Greens leader Katrin Göring-Eckardt engaged in a debate over climate change. Ms. Göring-Eckardt thinks Mr. Lindner wants to abandon Germany’s targets under the Paris climate agreement. That is something the latter denies, but says he wants market-based solutions not government subsidies to dictate how those climate goals are met. That’s just one of many disagreements these two parties have with each other. Add to that the Christian Social Union, which repeated that a cap on refugees will be a “red line” for them to enter government. Can Ms. Merkel get these sides to meet in the middle? And would such a coalition last a whole four years? Only time will tell.

8:30 p.m. in Berlin

Christian Lindner sounds the most ready to govern – and Martin Schulz the most frustrated. In a round table of party leaders, a post-election tradition in Germany, the Free Democrat leader Mr. Lindner called for all parties to think about how they can contribute to “stability” in the country. The Greens are also open to joining a coalition, though “not at any cost,” said leader Katrin Göring-Eckardt.

Mr. Schulz, leader of the Social Democrats, sought to lay blame for the centrist parties’ historic defeat at the feet of Ms. Merkel and promised to lead the opposition. Indeed he already started – calling Ms. Merkel a “vacuum cleaner” who would no doubt offer whatever concessions are needed to stay in power and bring together a CDU-FDP-Green coalition. Ms. Merkel, in her characteristically low-key style, agreed with Mr. Lindner’s more “pragmatic” approach to the coming months. Observers expect lengthy coalition talks.

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Martin Schulz and Angela Merkel won't be working together - at least not if Mr. Schulz has anything to do with it. Source: DPA

8:00 p.m. in Berlin

Germany’s economy has been humming along quite smoothly, and that’s something the country’s voters recognized as well. Despite handing both centrist parties one of their worst results in post-war Germany, an ARD exit poll showed 84 percent of voters said their personal economic situation is good. Even three-quarters of Alternative for Germany voters agreed. The dissatisfaction, clearly, comes from elsewhere. Immigration has been among the top concerns of this campaign.

7:50 p.m. in Berlin

What impact will the Alternative for Germany have on policy, even if it is not in government? That is clearly a worry for Europe. Many on the Continent had hoped for a moderate, left-leaning influence on Ms. Merkel’s policies over the next four years. Instead, it’s looking like the AfD could dictate the debate. Also interesting will be which of Ms. Merkel’s possible coalition partners gains the upper hand in the coming months. To the right of Ms. Merkel are the Free Democrats, who have been tougher on Europe and immigration. To the left, the pro-European Greens.

7:40 p.m. in Berlin

The protest movement in Germany has shifted sides. The smallest party in the new parliament will be The Left party, successors to East Germany’s former Communist party. It campaigned on a platform of more government spending and “peace” in foreign policy. It was hoping to attract a large protest vote against Chancellor Angela Merkel’s 12 years in office, but the more populist Alternative for Germany managed that feat better, collecting 13.5 percent of the vote compared to The Left’s 9 percent.

7:30 p.m. in Berlin

This election was always going to be more about who Angela Merkel can work with in the next government than who would become the strongest party. But Ms. Merkel’s worse-than-expected result could certainly change the coalition dynamics. Her Christian Democratic party will need 50 percent of the seats in the Bundestag to govern (see graphic below).

Ms. Merkel has already ruled out working with the Alternative for Germany, even if the far-right party shocked the political world with a far stronger showing than polls had suggested. For the moment at least, the Social Democrats (SPD) have also taken themselves out of the running. That leaves the Free Democrats (FDP) and Greens. Both parties did better than expected, and both are likely to play very difficult kingmakers as a result.

7:25 p.m. in Berlin

Let the next election campaign begin. With regard to the success of the AfD at the polls, Angela Merkel told her supporters, “We want to win back the voters of the AfD.” She added: “Above all, there are other major challenges facing the Union. This includes keeping the EU together and building a strong Europe. This includes combating illegal migration.”

7:17 p.m. in Berlin

Handelsblatt Global is live from a protest rally against the Alternative for Germany, which has become the first far-right party to enter the country’s parliament since 1960.

7:10 p.m. in Berlin

She may be chastened, but she’s still the leader of Germany’s largest party. In a speech to supporters, Chancellor Angela Merkel thanked voters for returning her to power after 12 years leading Germany. She said that the CDU had achieved its strategic goals. And she promised to focus on security and combating illegal migration – an issue that clearly had a significant impact on Sunday’s poll. With just around 33 percent of the vote, the Christian Democrats look headed for one of their worst results in their history.

7:00 p.m. in Berlin

We’re getting an initial sense of why the Alternative for Germany did as well as it did. A ZDF exit poll finds that 27 percent of East German men voted for the AfD, making the far-right populist party the strongest in that demographic group. Overall, the AfD was the second-strongest party in the eastern states. At an election celebration, Alexander Gauland, one of the AfD’s party leaders, warned people in the ruling CDU to “dress warmly,” saying that his followers “”will hunt them, we will get back our land and our people.”

Below the latest projections:

6:50 p.m. in Berlin

Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic party has suffered a major defeat, losing around 1 million votes, even if it remains the largest party. Horst Seehofer, leader of the CSU, says the result is a “bitter disappointment.” The CSU is the Bavarian sister party of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats. Initial projections have the CSU winning just 38.5 percent of the vote in the state of Bavaria, a collapse compared to 49.3 percent four years ago and one of their worst results in the post-war period.

6:40 p.m. in Berlin

Social Democrat leader Martin Schulz isn’t resigning, but he’s not putting on much of a brave face either. Speaking to supporters, Mr. Schulz said it is a “difficult and bitter day” for his party and expressed dismay particularly with the strong showing of the Alternative for Germany. In particular, the result had shown that the centrists had failed to convince many voters that the more than 1 million refugees entering the country in 2015-2016 could be properly integrated. Germany is a divided country, he said. The Social Democrats now expect to lead the opposition.

Social Democratic Party leader and top candidate Schulz reacts after first exit polls of the general election
Staying, but not happy. Source: Reuters

6:30 p.m. in Berlin

It will still be a while before the final results are in, but one thing is clear: Smaller political parties have pulled support from the centrists, both Ms. Merkel’s Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats of Martin Schulz. That’s no more true than for the right-wing Alternative for Germany, which will be entering parliament for the first time with a stunning double-digit result. In an ARD exit poll conducted with 100,000 voters in polling places, 60 percent of voters who voted for the AfD said they were disappointed with other parties. Asked about Chancellor Angela Merkel, another 84 percent said 12 years for Ms. Merkel was “enough.” A full 89 percent of the AfD voters said they liked the party’s pledge to reduce the influence of Islam in Germany.

6:20 p.m. in Berlin

What about governing coalitions? It comes down to the seats in Germany’s parliament (see below). From the initial projections, it looks like Angela Merkel will need to get two smaller parties – the Free Democrats and the Greens – on her side if she wants to avoid partnering once again with the Social Democrats. Ms. Merkel has ruled out working with the Alternative for Germany. Manuela Schwesig, a leader of the Social Democrats, said that the SPD is already resolved to go into opposition, rather than another ‘grand coalition’ with the Christian Democrats.

6:10 p.m. in Berlin

As expected, six political parties will be represented in Germany’s parliament (seven when including Ms. Merkel’s sister party the Christian Social Union in Bavaria). That marks the first time since 1950. In other words, debates in the Bundestag are set to get a little more colorful over the next four years.

 

6:04 p.m. in Berlin

The first projections are in from public broadcaster ARD, and as expected it’s a victory for Angela Merkel. Her Christian Democrats have won with a result of 32.5 percent, though markedly below four years ago and the opinion polls ahead of Sunday’s election. Next are the Social Democrats with their worst result ever at 20 percent. Third, if things hold as they are, is the far-right Alternative for Germany with 13.5 percent. Free Democrats 10.5 percent. Greens 9.5 percent and The Left 9 percent.

6:00 p.m. in Berlin

Polls closed. Results shortly.

5:55 p.m. in Berlin

Just a few minutes until polls close now. The buzz at SPD headquarters, bracing itself for a terrible showing, is that Martin Schulz could soon be out as boss and Manuela Schwesig in. The Social Democrats could, potentially, be headed for their worst result in the post-war period.

5:50 p.m. in Berlin.

Not only the far-right Alternative for Germany is set to enter parliament. The voters’ view of the pro-business Free Democrats has also improved greatly since 2013, according to an ARD poll. When voters were asked if the FDP was likely to improve the economy, 9 percent of voters agreed. In 2013, only 3 percent agreed. The party did not pass the 5 percent minimum necessary to gain seats in the parliament in 2013, marking the first time they were on the outside in Germany’s post-war history.

 

5:45 p.m. in Berlin

Germany’s leading politicians including Angela Merkel and Martin Schulz took to the polls throughout the day Sunday, and used social media to issue final pleas for Germans to get out and vote. Apparently, though, being a leader in Germany doesn’t get you any special privileges at the polling booth.

5:40 p.m. in Berlin

Will Angela Merkel celebrate a fourth term? Handelsblatt Global is live on the scene. Follow them live shortly on Facebook.

5:30 p.m. in Berlin

It might have been a rather boring campaign, but that doesn’t mean Germans aren’t voting. Turnout in the election appeared nearly as high as in 2013, according to broadcaster ARD. It said 41.1 percent of the 61.5 million voters had cast their ballots by 2 p.m. This was 0.3 percent less than in 2013. The total four years ago was 71.5 percent of the electorate, which was far better than 2009, when only 70.8 percent voted. The highest ever post war turnout was 91.1 percent in 1972, ARD said.

5:00 p.m. in Berlin

Welcome to our live blog of the German parliamentary elections. The campaign may have seemed boring, but the outcome is far from inconsequential. For some primers before we get started, check out our non-endorsement endorsement here, see our explainers on the country’s political parties, and read our extensive coverage of Germany’s election season.

Polls will be open until 6 p.m. Berlin time. After that you can expect the results to flow in pretty quickly. Exit polling and initial results tend to be pretty accurate, so we’ll have a good idea of where the parties stand by around 6:30 p.m. at the latest. Full results will trickle in throughout the evening as different precincts report.

We all know Angela Merkel’s center-right Christian Democrats are almost certain to win, but how many seats will she get in Germany’s Bundestag? The Social Democrats of Martin Schulz will likely come in second, but could be headed for one of their worst ever results. The key question is who will come in third. Will it be the right-wing Alternative for Germany, which is set to enter parliament for the first time and could hit double digits? Or will it be one of Ms. Merkel’s hoped for coalition partners? Check back here for regular updates throughout the evening.

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