The far-Right returned to the German parliament for the first time in almost 60 years on Sunday night as Angela Merkel won a record-equalling fourth term in power.
The success of the far-Right Alternative for Germany (AfD), which became the third largest party, tempered a remarkable political comeback by Mrs Merkel after the controversy over her handling of the migrant crisis.
Her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) remained the largest party in parliament, and the only party capable of forming a government, although analysts said it could take until Christmas to forge a coalition.
“Of course we hoped for a better result,” Mrs Merkel told supporters in Berlin. “But we have a mandate to form a government. And no government can be formed against us.”
But she acknowledged that dramatic gains for the AfD were the “biggest challenge” facing her government, and vowed to win voters back from the party which campaigned on a nationalist anti-immigrant platform.
“This is a great night. We did it. We are in parliament,” Alexander Gauland, the AfD’s chancellor candidate said. “We will change this country,” he vowed.
“We will hunt Merkel, and reclaim our country and our people.”
But Germany’s system of coalition government will limit the impact of the AfD as mainstream parties unite against it. Mrs Merkel’s former coalition partner, the Social Democratic Party (SPD) suffered the worst electoral defeat in its history and immediately announced it would go into opposition.
Initial exit polls gave the CDU 32.5 per cent of the vote together with its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU) — down from 41.5 per cent four years ago.
The SPD were second with 20 per cent, followed by the AfD with 13.5 per cent — expected to translate to around 88 seats in parliament.
“We lost the election,” Martin Schulz, the SPD leader who was talked of as Germany’s next chancellor as recently as six months ago, told supporters.
But he said he wanted to stay on as party leader and vowed to take the fight to the AfD. “We are the bulwark of democracy,” he said. AfD hopes of becoming the official opposition party appeared to be dashed when the SPD announced it would not seek a renewal of the current…