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2017 German Election

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel won her fourth four-year term as the German chancellor in the 2017 German federal election. The September 24 election allocated the seats of the 19th legislative Bundestag.

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At 32.9% of the vote, Merkel’s center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) won 246 seats, albeit reflecting a loss of 8.6% of the vote and 65 seats.

Merkel joins former CDU Chancellors Konrad Adenauer and Helmut Kohl as the only postwar chancellors to win four federal elections.

Germany’s other mainstream party, the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), too notched losses as the global rejection of establishment politics also manifested itself in German election results. It’s 20.5% of the vote tally was its worst since the postwar establishment of the Bundestag in 1949.

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The most notable development was the gains recognized by the Alternative for Deutschland (AfD) Party, particularly in East Germany, including a plurality victory in the state of Saxony.

What is the AfD: The AfD is a populist German political party, originally founded by macroeconomists in 2013 on an economic manifesto opposing euro zone financial bail-outs and calling for the dissolution of the Euro. But its short existence has been marred by leadership infighting and a lurch to the far-right. The shift was ushered in by Frauke Petry upon winning leadership of the party in 2015, at the peak of Europe’s refugee crisis.

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According to AfD co-founder Bernd Lucke, who quit the party after losing the leadership nod, Petry’s ascension shepherded the party from its Eurosceptic origins towards xenophobia and pro-Russian sentiments, even associating it with the Anti-Muslim Pegida movement. The AfD is now best known for its German nationalist, anti-immigration (namely Islamophobic) positions.

After failing to receive the 5% threshold required to enter the Bundestag in its maiden 2013 federal election, the AfD nearly tripled its voting total with 12.6%. The election delivers the party its first representation in the Bundestag.

Alexander Gauland, one of the AfD’s leading politicians told a crowd of supporters, “We will take back our country and our people.”

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Meanwhile, Petry, who has since found herself marginalized within the party, left the AfD just hours after the election. She will serve in the Bundestag as an independent, and has stated her intentions to form a new political group to run in the 2019 Saxon regional parliament election.

Why does it matter: Not only does the AfD enter the Bundestag, it has suddenly emerged as Germany’s third largest party with 94 seats. Its rapid rise marks the first far-right, explicitly nationalist party in the Bundestag in six decades.

The positive results restore the threat of far-right European populist movements, after having suffered a trifecta of disappointing results in the recent Austrian, Dutch and French elections, as disenchanted voters shun traditional parties.

Many within Germany were immediately fearful of the AfD’s momentum and of its nationalist rhetoric being reminiscent of the Nazi era. AfD leaders have publicly called for the embrace of German historical heritage and the end of the atonement for Nazi atrocities. Protests broke out in Berlin and across other German cities, chanting “Nazis out!”

AfD leaders have also pledged to hound Angele Merkel.

Government formation: Following its disastrous election results, the SPD announced its intention to not continue the grand coalition with Merkel’s CDU. Seeing its worst postwar tally as a rejection of its position in the coalition, SPD will return to opposition.

Without its erstwhile coalition partner, Chancellor Merkel is expected to navigate her CDU/CSU bloc into a three-party coalition with the pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP) and the pro-environment Greens. Such a coalition is referred to as a Jamaican coalition given the political party colors.


2017 German Election was originally published in Lowdown on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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