It is true that Angela Merkel has won a fourth term as German Chancellor, but the election results indicate that she might have to make huge compromises. Her party's lead in parliament has been cut and the country is facing a surge in support for the far-right.
Published results indicate that Merkel's CDU/CSU group would be the largest in the Bundestag, but with its lead cut to 33.5 per cent of the seats, down from 41.5 per cent in 2013. The SPD fell to 21 per cent from 25.7 per cent. This result appears to have shocked everyone at that party's headquarters. It was also the worst result for CDU since 1949, and the SPD's worst since 1945. The center-left SPD, which had been in a "grand coalition" with Merkel, has been consigned to a new role as the leader of the opposition. Subsequently, addressing her supporters, a subdued Merkel said the result gave her a "mandate" to govern but that the AfD's success would require a "thorough analysis" to understand the concerns of their voters.
The hard-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) has now become the third-largest group in the national parliament, the Bundestag, as German voters delivered a stinging blow to the traditional parties. The AfD, founded only four years ago, has become the first far-right party to enter the Bundestag since 1961, with a seat projection of 13 per cent, according to FORSA polling institute data commissioned by German public broadcaster ZDF.
Election results have laid bare some drastic points. The CDU/CSU had 311 seats in the German parliament after the 2013 election. Now they will have 217 seats, a loss of 94 seats. The SPD, a member of the post-2013 coalition government, has secured 137 seats, a loss of 56 seats. After this election the AfD will have 88 seats; the FDP- 69 seats; the Left, 60 seats, a loss of 4 seats; and the Green Party will have 60 seats, a loss of 3 seats.
After the election results were published, Merkel addressed her supporters and 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."
SPD leader Martin Schulz has, in the meantime, said that the result was a "bitter disappointment" and that his party would not continue in the erstwhile coalition. It has been alleged by SPD supporters that during the election campaign, Schulz had found it hard to mount an effective opposition to Merkel, as his party had been inextricably linked to her policy decisions.
The AfD's local party leader in Berlin, Georg Pazderski has declared AfD's success as a "political earthquake." It may be recalled that this party, founded in 2013, rose to prominence on the back of an 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. Their stand on the refugee issue has however influenced this party's opponents to say that it has stoked Islamophobia in Germany.
Alice Weidel, a leading AfD figure, has told supporters that she would 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.
There were protests outside the party's headquarters in Berlin after the provisional results came through on 24 September evening. Protesters chanted "Nazis out" and sang "say it loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here." Such anger has been vent against the backdrop of a controversial comment made by top AfD politician, Björn Höcke. He caused outrage by condemning the Holocaust memorial in Berlin and told AfD supporters that Germans were the "only people in the world who planted a memorial of shame in the heart of their capital".
In response to the rise of the AfD, the European Jewish Congress has called on the major parties to shun it in parliament. "We trust that centrist parties in the Bundestag will ensure that the AfD has no representation in the coming governing coalition. Some of the positions it has espoused during the election campaign display alarming levels of intolerance not seen in Germany for many decades and which are, of course, of great concerns to German and European Jews", Dr. Moshe Kantor, President of the EJC, has said.
With the SPD refusing to rejoin government and no party willing to work with the AfD, the result appears to have left Merkel with few options for a coalition. Merkel may now 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. However, coalition talks are unlikely to begin in earnest until September 26 or 27.
It may be mentioned that to form a government, the parties involved must have a combined total of at least 50 per cent of the seats in parliament. There are likely to be several coalition options, and plenty of disagreements between the parties before they reach a deal.
There is however time for this process to be completed as the Bundestag is due to reconvene on October 24 - with the new government in place.
Merkel will, however, need to get to business and start tackling some of the "red-button issues" afflicting GermanyThese include issues like the question of EU reform, the eurocrisis, migration, Putin's Russia and Trump's United States. These have remained in the background during the glossed-over election campaign but they are there and will need immediate attention. Germany may appear to be a paragon of stability and purposefulness from the outside, but Merkel's way forward after this close election, in all likelihood, might be faced with daunting challenges.
Merkel is considered the most influential European head of state. Her international presence has been built on the foundations of extended domestic success. Merkel, 63, a former protege of Chancellor Helmut Kohl, five years after her elevation to the CDU leadership, steered the party to success in the 2005 federal election, placing a woman at the nation's helm for the first time. Her rise has been remarkable. This time, twelve years later, she will have to face diverse issues that will keep her critically engaged as an important leader of the free world. The coalition she will form might slow her down. Nevertheless, she will be able to lead Germany and hopefully, together with Macron, Europe, too.
The writer, a former Ambassador and Chief Information Commissioner of the Information Commission, is an analyst specialised in foreign affairs, right to information and good governance.