Published: Mon, September 25, 2017
Global Media | By Garry Long

Merkel to remain atop Germany, but anti-immigrant party gains support

Merkel to remain atop Germany, but anti-immigrant party gains support

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative party beat its rivals on Sunday to garner a plurality of the vote, but a far-right party will also enter the country's parliament for the first time in more than 60 years, according to exit polls.

Smaller parties were the chief beneficiaries of the erosion in support for Germany's traditionally dominant parties - above all the right-wing Alternative for Germany, or AfD, which was set to win up to 13.5 percent of the vote.

Germany, home today to an estimated 200,000 Jews, has built a reputation in recent decades as a tolerant, safe place for Jews to live, but official data show anti-Semitic crimes reported to the police rising 4 percent to 681 in the first eight months of 2017 against the same period a year ago.

The Social Democrats look to have taken 20% of the vote. "We will hunt Ms. Merkel". "We are the strongest party, we have the mandate to build the next government - and there can not be a coalition government built against us", Merkel added.

AfD co-leader Alexander Gauland vowed that "we will take our country back" and promised to "chase" Merkel.

"We got where we wanted to be, we wanted to be the strongest power".

Its tone turned increasingly extreme in the last stretch of campaigning, with one of its two leading candidates saying Germany should be proud of its war veterans and claiming that terror was grounded in Islam.

"This is a big day in our party's history. We will bring back our nation", Gauland said.

Leaders of Germany's Social Democratic Party say they plan to go into the opposition after their disappointing second-place finish in Germany's election. Some supporters chanted "AfD!"

Another big victor Sunday was the pro-business Free Democratic Party, which was set to return to parliament with 10.5 percent of the vote.

"This election is not about who wins the chancellery, it's already clear that she's going to continue", he told AFP, in a nod to the surveys giving Merkel's conservatives a commanding lead.

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"In a country that is big on schadenfreude, our comeback is an encouraging message - after failure, a new beginning is possible", party leader Christian Lindner told supporters. The Greens won 9.5 per cent and the left-wing Die Linke won 9 per cent.

"This is a hard and bitter day for German social democracy", a grim-faced Schulz, a former European Parliament chief, told reporters, adding that he hoped to remain party leader. "It is completely clear that the role the voters have given us is as the opposition".

Without the SPD, Merkel's only straightforward path to a majority in parliament would be a three-way tie-up with the liberal Free Democrats (FDP) and the Greens, known as a " Jamaica" coalition because the black, yellow and green colours of the three parties match the Jamaican flag.

Also, World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder congratulated German Chancellor Angela Merkel calling her "a true friend of Israel and the Jewish people".

Josef Schuster, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said that "unfortunately, our worst fears have come true: a party that tolerates far-right views in its ranks and incites hate against minorities in our country is today not only in nearly all state parliaments but also represented in the Bundestag".

The "Jamaica" alliance "could work ... the (conservative) Union, Greens and Free Democrats do have similar voters", said Karl-Rudolf Korte, a political scientist at Duisburg-Essen University.

The AfD will be a pariah in parliament as all mainstream parties have ruled out working with it, but the populists could still be vocally disruptive from the opposition benches.

Though frequently criticised for sitting out tough challenges, Merkel has punctuated her reign with bold and surprising decisions - from scrapping nuclear power after the 2011 Fukushima disaster to opening German borders to more than a million asylum seekers since 2015.

Merkel has over the years pulled her party toward the center, but may now face new pressure for a more robust conservative image.

"It is particularly important that we close this flank with ... clear political positions", he said.

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