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Angela Merkel Wins Fourth Term As German Chancellor, But Voters Also Send A Warning

Angela Merkel

Angela Merkel, who has served as Chancellor of Germany since 2005, won re-election to a fourth term in that position, but the election also saw gains by a far-right party that has raised the concerns of many in Germany:

BERLIN — Angela Merkel won a fourth term as chancellor in elections on Sunday, placing her in the front ranks of Germany’s postwar leaders, even as her victory was dimmed by the entry of a far-right party into Parliament for the first time in more than 60 years, according to preliminary results.

The far-right party, Alternative for Germany, or AfD, got some 13 percent of the vote — nearly three times the 4.7 percent it received in 2013 — a significant showing of voter anger over immigration and inequality as support for the two main parties sagged from four years ago.

Ms. Merkel and her center-right Christian Democrats won, the center held, but it was weakened. The results made clear that far-right populism — and anxieties over security and national identity — were far from dead in Europe.

They also showed that Germany’s mainstream parties were not immune to the same troubles that have afflicted mainstream parties across the Continent, from Italy to France to Britain.

“We expected a better result, that is clear,” Ms. Merkel said Sunday night. “The good thing is that we will definitely lead the next government.”

She said that she would listen to those who voted for the Alternative for Germany, or AfD, and work to win them back “by solving problems, by taking up their worries, partly also their fears, but above all by good politics.”

But her comments seemed to augur a shift to the right and more of an emphasis on controls over borders, migration and security.

Despite her victory, Ms. Merkel and her conservatives cannot lead alone, making it probable that the chancellor’s political life in her fourth term will be substantially more complicated.

The shape and policies of a new governing coalition will involve weeks of painstaking negotiations. Smiling, Ms. Merkel said Sunday night that she hoped to have a new government “by Christmas.”

The center-left Social Democrats, Ms. Merkel’s coalition partners for the last four years, ran a poor second to her center-right grouping, and the Social Democrats announced Sunday evening that the party would go into opposition, hoping to rebuild their political profile.

But the step would also make sure that the AfD stays on the political sidelines and does not become the country’s official opposition.

The Alternative for Germany nonetheless vowed to shake the consensus politics of Germany, and in breaking a postwar taboo by entering Parliament, it already had.

Alexander Gauland, one of AfD’s leaders, told party supporters after the results that in Parliament: “We will go after them. We will claim back our country.”

To cheers, he said: “We did it. We are in the German Parliament and we will change Germany.”

Burkhard Schröder, an AfD member since 2014 from Düsseldorf, was ecstatic. “We are absolutely euphoric here,” he said. “This is a strong victory for us that has weakened Angela Merkel.”

Up to 700 protesters gathered outside the AfD’s election night party, chanting slogans like “All of Berlin, hate the AfD.”

“It’s important to show that it’s not normal that a neofascist party got into the German Parliament,” said Dirk Schuck, 41, a political scientist at the University of Leipzig.

While both Ms. Merkel and the Social Democrats lost significant voter support from 2013, her victory vaults her into the ranks of Konrad Adenauer and Helmut Kohl, the only postwar chancellors to win four national elections.

The election is a remarkable capstone for Ms. Merkel, 63, the first East German and the first woman to become chancellor.

It also represents a vindication of her pragmatic leadership and confidence in her stewardship of Europe’s largest economy and of the European Union itself in the face of populism, challenges from Russia and China and uncertainty created by the unpredictable policies of President Trump.

Even so, the advance of the far right was a cold slap for her and the Christian Democratic Union, or CDU. The AfD made particular inroads in the former East Germany but also in Bavaria, where Ms. Merkel’s sister party, the Christian Social Union, or CSU, has long led but lost some 10 percent of its vote over 2013.

Horst Seehofer, the CSU leader, said, “We made the mistake of having the right flank open.”

From the pre-election polling that I was able to follow over the summer leading up to yesterday’s polling, it wasn’t entirely surprising that Merkel’s coalition managed to pull of this victory. Notwithstanding the strains that immigration has placed on the country, the German economy remains the strongest in Europe and, thanks in no small part to the decision of the United Kingdom to leave the European Union, Merkel has become the most prominent politician in Europe and, in some ways, the de facto leader in Europe. Combine that with the rise of Donald Trump here in the United States, and that means that both Germany as a whole and Merkel herself have become far more prominent voices in a Western coalition that is still unsure about just how reliable a partner the United States will be over the next four to eight years. To be sure, Merkel faced a ton of criticism at home due to the influx of immigrants and refugees from the civil war in Syria, but as we saw in the recent elections in France as well as elsewhere in Europe, the center has largely held in the face of attempts to make inroads from groups representing the nationalist right.

As for the rise of the AfD, that is likely explained by two distinct phenomena that have little to do with actual voter endorsement of the more extreme elements of their agenda. As Dave Schuler notes in his post on the election, at least part of what happened there can be explained by the manner in which Germany conducts its elections. Unlike the United States and other Parliamentary democracies, Germany does not have “winner take all” elections. Instead, voters actually vote twice, once for so-called “direct candidates” running for election in their particular constituency, and once for a particular political party, based on the candidate list that each party provides prior to the election. In the end, one-half of the Bundestag is made up of direct candidates and the other half is made up of candidates from the party list. This gives voters the opportunity to split their ballots between parties if they so choose. It appears that this is what may have helped contribute to the increased vote for the AfD. Additionally, as Dave notes, it’s likely that some of the people who ended up backing the AfD did so not because they are neo-Nazis, but as a way to express their frustration about the government’s open borders and refugee policies. In other words, the vote for the AfD looks as though it may have been largely a protest vote to send a message to Merkel and her coalition that they need to proceed more carefully on immigration policy or potentially face an even harsher dose of blowback from voters in the future. In any case, as noted, the AfD will not have any voice in the governing coalition, and will not have a status as the official opposition in the Bundestag. This will cut down significantly on the party’s ability to have any real influence going forward.

That being said, it would be foolish of Merkel and the rest of the coalition to ignore either the fact that their margin of victory was smaller than in the past or the fact that they have been put on notice regarding the nation’s immigration and refugee policies. German voters are clearly worried about the impact such policies are having on their economy and their culture, and they sent a pretty loud message regarding how they feel about it.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. CSK says:

    Very OT, but Anthony Weiner’s been sentenced to 21 months in the slammer.

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  2. Mu says:

    I don’t know where you get this “Merkel’s coalition won a victory” from. Merkel’s coalition partner has declared they don’t want to do that again, eliminating the only two-party government option. The only alternative currently discussed is a black-green-yellow coalition. That’s the equivalent of getting Bernie Sanders, Hilary Clinton, and Rand Paul into one government. Blue, black, yellow would actually be the easier one by degree of overlap, but no one yet openly discusses a government including the AfD.
    The only saving grace for Merkel is that to change chancellors in Germany you need to elect a new one, but a minority government will be a disaster in the long run.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  3. MBunge says:

    When we see the rise of right wing populism in the U.S. (Trump), we freak out.

    When we see the rise of right wing population in Britain (Brexit), we freak out.

    When we see the rise of right wing populism in France (Le Pen), we freak out.

    When we see the rise of right wing populism in Germany…no freak out?

    Mike

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 8

  4. Mu says:

    The “right wing” part of the populists in Germany is marginal, yes, they have a strong nationalistic element by German standards, but still miles away from the comparable US or French version. And most of their economic ideas would be decried as socialist in the US.

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  5. michael reynolds says:

    I said at the time that Merkel’s idea to take in a million refugees was decent and principled and also politically stupid verging on malpractice. That single decision has wrought untold harm in Europe and in the US. If by doing ‘right’ you are making it impossible to do right in the future, indeed giving aid and comfort to the forces of ‘wrong,’ you’re doing more wrong than right and should reconsider.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  6. michael reynolds says:

    @CSK:

    I really should be more mature, but. . .

    So you’re saying it’s hard time for Weiner?

    Or perhaps, Can Weiner stand up to hard time?

    OK, stopping now.

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  7. SKI says:

    @michael reynolds:
    Reality check: the places in Germany with the largest amount of refugees and immigrants are the places where AfD did worst and vice versa.

    Kinda similar to our idiots here – the places that are most cosmopolitan/impacted by people who are different are also the places that are least bigoted and fearful.

    Put a different way: if the fear and bigotry is most prevalent among those with least contact, keeping immigrants and refugees out increases the population that is susceptible to hate and bigotry.

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  8. SKI says:

    @SKI:

    Reality check: the places in Germany with the largest amount of refugees and immigrants are the places where AfD did worst and vice versa.

    Link to Chart showing this

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  9. Mikey says:

    @SKI: It’s also no coincidence the AfD did best in the former DDR. Not only was there essentially no immigration during the time of Soviet dominance, they have also never really dealt with the factors leading to the rise of fascism and its consequences as the former West Germany did. All that was just kind of papered over in the DDR.

    And there’s a non-trivial level of nostalgia for the “old days” which means they’re a lot more amenable to Russian influence, which has appealed to the far right in Germany just as it has in America.

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  10. Not the IT Dept. says:

    Michael: I’m sure Weiner will rise to the occasion.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  11. Ben Wolf says:

    @SKI: That’s because manufacturing workers in East Germany were pissed Merkel welcomed hundreds of thousands of slaves cheap workers the German auto industry wanted to use to drive down wages. This is an ongoing battle between workers and management in Germany and the government cynically planned to use desperate refugees to further tilt the scales toward the robber-barons who own Merkel and her party.

    Well, that plan just backfired spectacularly. And racists have a foothold in a part of Germany where a certain other racist got his start.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 3

  12. Mu says:

    @Ben Wolf: Wow, in a country where unions negotiate statewide labor contracts for everyone, where the automotive industry is replacing any low-skill labor with robots, and where East Germany has some of the most modern automotive lines in the world ,the automotive workers are afraid of low-cost foreign workers. Too much Köstritzer for lunch?

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  13. michael reynolds says:

    @SKI:

    Of course. Same in this country. People in states with no immigrants fear them, states with immigrants fear them less. Ditto in the UK.

    But beside the point. As @Ben Wolf points out, this is perceived as an economic threat and may well be one, as well as a cultural threat. I know nothing about German politics but I’d imagine the reaction in the hinterlands is much the same as the reaction when Californians or New Yorkers extoll immigrants to people in Idaho. It looks to them a lot like rich people in rich places demanding more nannies and maids and telling the goobers to move to the coasts if they don’t want to be entirely forgotten.

    There’s not much use in pursuing policies which create their own backlash and result in worse policies. Merkel announced a million refugees, Obama decided to get in on the action, and we now have Nazis marching in Charlottesville, their pals in the Bundestag, and a Muslim ban. The flow of refugees into the US from the middle east has been severely curtailed. We can’t even manage to bring in people who risked their lives for us as battlefield interpreters.

    I don’t think it’s a bad thing to consider the political blowback before pushing a policy. It’s basic generalship – you don’t send your troops marching up the hill without knowing what they’re marching into. I have no interest in glorious defeats, especially self-inflicted ones, or in self-congratulatory virtue-signaling. We on the Left have serious responsibilities to groups we protect – African-Americans, Latinos, Dreamers, LGBT people, the poor, the sick and uninsured. When we do things that weaken our capacity to protect our allies we betray them.

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  14. Mikey says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I know nothing about German politics but I’d imagine the reaction in the hinterlands is much the same as the reaction when Californians or New Yorkers extoll immigrants to people in Idaho.

    From personal experience, my wife’s family in the former West Germany is spread from urban areas to small farm villages in the “hinterlands,” and they’re generally in favor of Merkel’s refugee policy. But head over to Sachsen (Saxony) in the former DDR, and it’s a whole different outlook.

    Either way…Germany is the last nation on Earth that is going to refuse refugees fleeing from war-torn areas. I’m sure you can figure out why, even if you don’t know much else about German politics.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  15. al-Ameda says:

    @MBunge:

    When we see the rise of right wing populism in the U.S. (Trump), we freak out.

    *** completely rational and justified, Trump installed as president

    When we see the rise of right wing population in Britain (Brexit), we freak out.

    *** completely rational and justified, Brexit passed

    When we see the rise of right wing populism in France (Le Pen), we freak out.

    *** rational that we freaked out, France did not, Macron won.

    When we see the rise of right wing populism in Germany…no freak out?

    *** not yet, Merkel won, we’ll have to see.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  16. Lit3Bolt says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Michael, is there been a dystopian near future novel about the (inevitable, IMO) global warming refugee crisis?

    When the equator has to empty out because of catastrophic famine and flooding and heat and wars, there’s a lot more land north of the equator than south…

    Call it “The Flood,” add some multiple perspectives, a few tragic deaths, some non sequitur sex scenes/love triangles, and you have a blockbuster.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  17. The Social-Democratic parties in Continental Europe are basically collapsing, and one of the reasons that Labour in Britain is not collapsing is precisely because Corbyn was pretty vague on Brexit and the EU. I’m seeing plenty of reasons to worry, I’m also seeing the rise of a Far Right in Latin America, that’s not good.

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  18. Mister Bluster says:

    …the rise of right wing populism in the U.S. (Trump).

    Right wing populist Trump. Has a ring to it.
    He sure has been throwing the red meat to his right wing populist supporters by calling NFL players sons of bitches and demanding that NFL owners fire their employees who do not show respect for the American Flag and United States Military veterans.

    REPUBLICAN President Pud is indeed one to hold himself out as Commander in Chief who respects American war veterans. Like what he said about John McCain.
    “He’s not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”

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  19. Monala says:

    @Lit3Bolt: Octavia Butler’s very prescient 1990’s novel, Parable of the Sower would qualify. (There’s a sequel, Parable of the Talents, but I haven’t read it). Set in the 2020’s, the African-American teenage protagonist lives with her family in a gated community in Los Angeles, while the poor and desperate roam the streets. The U.S. remains a democracy in name only, with shams of elections and a fascistic president who promises to “make America great again.”

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  20. Monala says:

    @Lit3Bolt: Here’s a pretty good article about both Butler and the book.

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