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Angela Merkel Wins German Election, But Right-Wing Party Gains Seats In Parliament


Germans went to the polls today to vote in federal elections. As the polls predicted, Angela Merkel's conservatives won the most votes, and she will remain chancellor. But the political landscape in Germany has changed. For the first time in more than half a century, a far-right party has entered Parliament. For more, I'm joined now by reporter Esme Nicholson. She's in Berlin. Esme, thanks so much for speaking with us.

ESME NICHOLSON, BYLINE: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: So Angela Merkel wins another term, but I understand that her party did not do as well as she might have hoped?

NICHOLSON: That's right, Michel. Although Merkel's conservative bloc got the most votes, it was actually the second-worst result since the end of World War II. They got roughly 33 percent of the vote. Well, that's what the initial results are saying now. Her main opponent, the center-left Social Democrats, also did worse. In fact, they got their lowest result ever. They are down at 20 percent. That's punishment, perhaps, for working with Merkel in a grand coalition for so many years. The Social Democrats and Merkel's conservatives have worked for two out of her three terms together.

MARTIN: And I understand that the populist anti-immigrant party, the AfD, did better than expected?

NICHOLSON: Yes, they did. They came in at 13 percent, which puts them in third place. And this is significant. It actually means for the very first time in more than 50 years, there's going to be a right-wing party in the Bundestag, in the lower house.

MARTIN: What did the AfD do well? And what impact do you think that they're going to have?

NICHOLSON: They're a young party. They're only four years old. And originally, they formed in response to the financial crisis and the bailouts that Germany and the EU gave Greece. At the last election, they were following this anti-euro, anti-bailout agenda. And they didn't do well enough to enter Parliament. But since 2015, when roughly 1 million asylum-seekers came to Germany, the AfD has styled itself as an anti-Islam, anti-immigrant party. And it ran a pretty xenophobic campaign, calling, for instance, for a ban on headscarves and minarets.

This rhetoric has really found resonance among those who feel left behind. This is particularly the case in the former east among people who never really quite got over the collapse of communism. But we're seeing this evening that some traditionally conservative voters in southern Germany have also turned to the AfD.

MARTIN: So Merkel does not have enough votes to govern alone, so she does need to form a coalition. We've understood that she certainly won't be reaching out to the AfD, but what about other potential partners?

NICHOLSON: It looks as though Merkel really only has one option and that is to form a three-way partnership with the pro-business libertarians and also with the Green Party. So considering this, Merkel has got her work cut out because the Greens and the libertarians, they don't share that much common ground. That said, it wouldn't be beyond Merkel to broker such a coalition. We know she's very good at fostering and forging consensus. We see that on an international level. I think we'll see this on a domestic level. But it could take until Christmas for a new government to form.

MARTIN: That's Esme Nicholson in Berlin. Esme, thanks so much for speaking with us.

NICHOLSON: My pleasure, Michel. Thank you for having me on. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.