Angela Merkel Hangs on for Fourth Term as German Chancellor

Angela Merkel

Merkel's conservatives are the strongest party after Sunday's election, but a surge in support for the far-right will make it harder for her to form a government.

Angela Merkel will remain Chancellor of Germany for a fourth term in office after her conservatives emerged from Sunday's elections weaker but still the country's strongest party.

Merkel's conservatives took just under 33 percent of the vote, according to initial estimates, an all-time low for the party, as support surged for the anti-immigrant, anti-establishment Alternative for Germany (AfD), which won 13.1 percent. The result means the AfD will become the first far-right party to enter the German parliament in more than half a century.

Merkel's main rivals, the left-of-center Social Democrats, also had a bad night, receiving just 20.8 percent of the vote, their worst result since the 1940s. The neo-liberal Free Democrats turned in a strong showing, garnering 10.3 percent of the vote, while the Greens (9.1 percent) and the socialist Left party (9 percent) slightly improved on their last election results.

Germany's proportional representation system means Merkel will now have to cobble together a coalition to form a new government. The Social Democrats have ruled out staying on with Merkel's conservatives in a so-called grand coalition, leaving Merkel with only one real option: a three-way coalition with the Free Democrats and the Greens. Such a combination has never been tried before in Germany on the national level and it will likely be weeks, if not months, before Merkel and her political partners can work out a coalition agreement.

Speaking after the vote, Merkel said the success of the far right was a test for Germans and that it was important to listen to the concerns of voters and to win them back. But she emphasized that she was still in charge.

“We are the strongest party, we have the mandate to build the next government — and there cannot be a coalition government built against us,” Merkel said.

The German vote, coming after Brexit and the election of U.S. President Donald Trump, was seen by many as a test for mainstream parties in the face of increasing support for both the far left and far right across Europe. Many across Europe have looked to Merkel to be an anchor of stability.

But following Sunday's results, the German leader will face her own challenges at home to form a stable and workable new government.