In one of the most anticipated elections of the year, German’s cast their votes on Sunday to re-elect current chancellor Angela Merkel to a historic fourth term. Her re-election was far from a political surprise, but going into her next four years, she will have to face the reality that her victory came with much lower support and the political landscape of Germany is seeing a major shift that made it possible for the AfD (Alternative for Deutschland) party to rise to power, making it the first time for a nationalist party to do so since the end of World War II.
With most of the votes counted, Merkel won her re-election with 33% of the vote, coming in far ahead of her closest challenger, Martin Schulz of the SPD (Social Democratic Party), who captured only 20.5%. What had many so surprised though was the enormous support for one of Germany’s most controversial and most feared political parties, the AfD, as they ended the day with 12.6% of the vote, making it the third most supported party in the country.
Merkel’s first job now is to meet with leaders of the opposition parties to form a coalition since no single party received a majority vote, and while her CDU (Christian Democratic Union) party continuing a coalition with the SPD seems like the simple choice, leaders of the SPD have already stated they would not be open to continuing the partnership. That leaves Merkel only a few options, all of which will most likely come with some pressures to move Germany in some bold new directions.
The most plausible coalition on the table is the ‘Jamaica Coalition’, consisting of the CDU, FDP and Green party. It gets its name from the mix official colors of the three parties. What’s most plausible isn’t always an easy or guaranteed choice though. Members of the FDP and Green parties aren’t exactly sold on the idea, in fact there are many vocal opponents, leaving some to question whether or not the parties would be able to come to an agreement before the end of the year.
There is one issue that most all parties can agree on after the election, and that is to keep as much power away from the AfD as they can. It is clear that the German public is torn on a number of issues in the country, and the far-right AfD made quite the effort to align themselves with these frustrations. AfD leaders won such a large vote by taking some very hard stances against immigration and the refugee crisis, but other extremist views held by the party find a number of minority groups under attack and have even caused some large divides from within.
Shortly after the results came in late Sunday night, protesters took to the streets to fight back against the AfD victory. Hundreds took to the streets of central Berlin alone to express their anger, holding up signs calling for an end to racism and shouting out phrases such as ‘Nazi Pigs!’ and “All Berlin hates the AfD!”
It’s hard to ignore the similarities to both the ‘Brexit’ vote and last year’s U.S. election upsets, and it is clear that a rising divide among citizens is a topic all too real around the world. Will this election pave the way for a drastic change in Germany, or will things mostly stay the same? It is a question many will be eager to see answered in the months ahead.