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Merkel's party wins commanding yet lower votes as far-right AfD to debut in parliament
Last Updated: 2017-09-25 08:47 | Xinhua
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German sitting Chancellor Angela Merkel (Front) is applauded after the preliminary exit poll at the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party's headquarters in Berlin, Germany, on Sept. 24, 2017. The conservative union led by German sitting Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday defended its dominant role in the Bundestag (German parliament) with 32.5 percent of the vote, according to the preliminary exit poll. (Xinhua/Luo Huanhuan)

The conservative union led by German sitting Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday defended its commanding role in the Bundestag (German parliament) with 32.5 percent of the vote, falling short of expectations with a 9-percentage-point gap compared with the election four years ago.

The union's main rival, Germany's center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) led by former European Parliament president Martin Schulz, also suffered a big setback in Sunday's election.

Meanwhile, the far-right party Alternative fuer Deutschland (AfD) unexpectedly made a historical breakthrough with 13.5 percent of votes, and became the third strongest party in the Bundestag.

LOWER SUPPORTS BUT MERKEL SAYS CDU REACHED ITS GOAL

The lower than expected margin will still offer a decent chance for Merkel to claim her fourth term as Chancellor.

Senior official of the CDU Volker Kauder told reporters after the election that the CDU had reached its expectation in the election, and Merkel will remain in office as chancellor and will be granted the mandatory to form the new cabinet.

In a televised speech after the election, Merkel told her supporters that "we have clear government mandate, and no government can be formed without us", admitting that her bloc had reached strategic goal in election though she had hoped for better results.

She also promised to win back voters of AfD with good policies, vowing to fight against illegal immigrants while protecting interests of legal citizens.

Despite Merkel's bitter victory, Andreas Quebbemann, member of the state parliament in Niedersachsen, said he was Very disappointed with the result.

"We lost so many voters because they dissatisfied with CDU's policy, such as the refugee policy. But they switched to AfD not because they believed AfD can provide solutions, but an expression of their dissatisfaction to us," Quebbemann told Xinhua.

"As to the coalition cabinet, there is only one option left for CDU -- joint FDP and the Green Party. But we have many differences with the Green Party. The coalition is bound to be a difficult one, but I believe the final compromise will be reached. Because this is politics," Quebbemann added.

Calling it a historical day because of AfD's breakthrough, David Mcallister, a CDU senior member and Chairman of the European Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee, told Xinhua that the conservative union has no choice but form a "Jamaica coalition" (so-called because the parties' colors match those of the Jamaican flag) with the Greens and liberal FDP.

"Though we have common ground, the three-party coalition government will meet plenty of challenges, because we have differences in the economic, diplomatic and many other aspects," said Mcallister.

MERKEL NEEDS TO REFLECT ON BITTER VICTORY

"The result showed that the next German government will face challenges," Hajo Funke, a professor from Free University Berlin, told Xinhua.

Funke said to some degree the result is a reflection of the partly failure of the grand coalition government between the Union Party and the SPD in the past four years, mostly in domestic issues, as the government failed to address enough the divide between the rich and poor.

Although German economy is booming and enjoying some of the best times since 2008/2009 global financial crisis, the gap between the rich and the poor is increasing. According to a survey by local media, social justice has become the second social problems in the country, following the refugee issues.

Gaps not only exist between the rich and the poor, but also among different regions. According to the newspaper Bild, about 27 percent of male voters in eastern Germany cast their ballots for the AfD, the highest ratio among all parties. Eastern Germany is the most less developed regions.

"The prices are climbing, the rent is increasing, but our salaries are increasing as quickly as living costs," said the 52-year-old repair worker Stephen Norman in Berlin, who voted for AfD.

"I'm heavily taxed, and all Germans are heavily taxed, but we don't want to use our money to support refugees. That is unfair!" Norman told Xinhua.

SPD POCKETS HISTORICAL LOW BUT REFUSES GRAND COALITION

In addition, the union's main rival SPD took just 20 percent of the vote and garnered the lowest vote since World War II, according to a preliminary exit poll.

For his part, Schulz said the election marked a "historic crash" for the SPD. But Thomas Oppermana, a senior official of the party, said Schulz will continue to be the president of the party despite the "crash" and led the renovation of the party.

According to local media ARD, Schulz said his party had no intention to form a coalition government with the conservative union and "will go to the opposite".

He said his party is a "strong bulwark" against would-be lawmakers from the right-wing AfD.

"We are a strong bulwark against the enemies of democracy that we now have in parliament," Schulz said in a television interview.

He referred to the AfD's result as "depressing," saying that widespread fears about the refugee crisis had fuelled support for the right-wing party.

"This is a turning point," said Schulz. "It's clear that the decision to welcome refugees has divided our society. What is a great act of humanity to some seems threatening to others. We didn't manage to convince people that Germany is strong enough to leave no one behind."

Lisa Price, official of SPD's state commission in Brandenburg, told Xinhua that refusing the grand coalition (CDU/CSU plus SPD) is SPD's victory, because "SPD will finally have the opportunity to prove itself."

"Staying out the grand coalition will make SPD more distinctive and could focus on such issues as the interests of the low-income groups as an opposition party," she told Xinhua.

Gerhard Stahl, a Berliner who has been an SPD since 1970s, now professor with College of Europe in Brussels, said Schulz should not hold the whole responsibility for SPD's loss.

"Being an opposition party can also give the people an alternative. A lot of people are dissatisfied with the ruling coalition, if the two largest party group form a grand coalition again, there will be no alternative for voters. If the government let us down in the coming years, we can vote for SPD instead," Stahl told Xinhua.

"The result (of SPD) is foreseeable. It is a difficult situation with immigrants this time around, but you should not overlook that there are 85 percent voters who had voted normal parliamentary parties, it showed the strength of German system that all these parties can cooperate and Germany is a stable democracy," Stahl told Xinhua.

AFD'S CELEBRATIONS MET WITH PROTEST

In another development, the AfD crossed the five-percent-vote threshold on Sunday came into the new parliament for the first time. It is also the first far-right populist party in the Bundestag since WWII.

"We will hunt Merkel! We want to bring our country and people back," said Alexander Gauland, one of the two candidates of the AfD in this election who always accuses Merkel's policies in refugees and euro crisis.

"It's a historical and outstanding result for AfD. We will experience more pluralism in the Bundestag, and we will experience a lively democracy through the AfD," said AfD's politician Bjoern Hoecke.

However, Hoecke's joyful words met with protests and demonstrations against AfD shortly after.

Hundreds of demonstrators gathered on Berlin's Alexanderplatz on Sunday evening, bearing umbrellas to keep dry and waving anti-AfD signs to protest AfD's election result.

Later, the crowd shouted as one, "The whole of Berlin hates the AfD."

Police were monitoring the situation and prohibiting the protesters from drawing close to the building housing the AfD's party.

According to security authority, AfD supporters were cleared off the building's balcony after demonstrators on the ground threw objects in that direction.

Similar anti-AfD protests also took place on the other side of the country in Cologne. Demonstrators met in front of the west German city's central train station before marching through the streets with a banner reading "Whoever is silent, is complicit".

The two rallies were parts of a nationwide campaign dubbed "Nationalism is not an Alternative", which also saw 300 people rallying in Frankfurt, German news agency DPA reported.

Despite AfD's breakthrough, experts believed that the party's influence should not be overestimated.

Prof. Dr. Paul Nolte, a historian with Free University Berlin, told Xinhua that as SPD refused to form another grand coalition government with the CDU/CSU bloc, the AfD will not become the largest opposition party, so that their influence in the Bundestag will be restricted.

Prof. Dr. Hajo Funke, also a political scientist with Free University Berlin focusing on right-wing extremism, told Xinhua that although the AfD is popular to a small degree in the public, but most others have realized that it is a dangerous right-wing party.

Although it has entered the Bundestag, none of the parties in the federal parliament, no matter the small parties or the country's two major parties, ruled out cooperation with the AfD in any form, possibly making it a lonely marginal man in the Bundestag.

Funke also doubted that the AfD would be stronger in the future, as the party has lost the flexibility.

"Right-wing parties like the FPOE in Austria, they say something very radical but act more like centrists. But when it comes to AfD, its leading structure has decided to be right-wing radical, which has limited their influence," said Funke.

Founded in 2013, the eurosceptic and anti-immigration party -- which welcomed Brexit, missed the Bundestag with 4.7 percent of votes in the same year.

The party gained momentum during the Euro and the refugee crisis. It was polling at around 10 percent before Sunday's federal election.

About 73,500 polling stations across the country opened at 8:00 a.m. local time (0600 GMT) and closed at 6:00 p.m. (1600 GMT).

Official statistics showed that Sunday's turnout of the election stood at 75 percent, higher than the 71.5 percent in 2013.

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