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6TH LEAD Merkel's party slumps to historic low, eyes coalition options By Andrew McCathie, dpa

By our dpa-correspondent and Europe Online    auf Facebook posten  Auf Twitter posten  
Berlin (dpa) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel says she faces tough talks before she can forge a new coalition to govern the country, after an election result which saw her conservative bloc achieve its worst result since 1949.

Merkel‘s Christian Democrats (CDU) and their Bavarian-based Christian Social Union (CSU) allies gained just 33.0 per cent of the vote according to provisional final election results posted early Monday.

The country‘s Social Democrats (SPD) - currently part of a grand coalition with Merkel - dropped to a record low of 20.5 per cent, while the populist, anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD) party earned 12.6 per cent of the vote to become the country‘s third-strongest power and enter parliament for the first time.

Merkel ruled out forming a minority government after Sunday‘s election, but declined to say whether she expected to form a new government by the end of the year.

"I have the intention that we should come to a stable government in Germany," Merkel told a televised election post-mortem featuring party leaders.

The CDU-CSU pairing is now likely to be forced to negotiate a new and potentially fractious three-party coalition.

That is likely to mean coalition talks with the country‘s Greens, who secured 8.9 per cent of the vote, and the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) who return to the federal stage for the first time in four years with 10.7 per cent.

The SPD, meanwhile, ruled out forming a coalition with the conservatives again. "It‘s perfectly clear that the electorate has directed us to go into opposition," said SPD‘s chancellor candidate Martin Schulz, who described the election result as "difficult and bitter."

If projections hold, a Merkel-led coalition with the FDP and the Greens would have a narrow parliamentary majority in the new Bundestag of about 700 lawmakers.

Underlining the difficulties facing Merkel in forming a new three-party coalition, FDP, Green and CSU leaders clashed during the often acrimonious one-hour long television post-mortem.

Green Party leader Katrin Goring-Eckardt warned that talks to form a new so-called Jamaica coalition - the colours of the three parties are yellow, green and black - could be difficult. "We are not easy partners," she said.

But Sunday‘s results also mean the CDU-CSU will have to win back the voters who had switched to the far-right AfD party by "listening to their concerns and their fears and primarily by conducting good politics," Merkel said.

About 21 per cent of AfD voters told pollsters that they had voted CDU-CSU in the last election in 2013. In the eastern state of Saxony the populist party gained the most votes, just ahead of the CDU.

Founded in 2013, the anti-Islam, anti-Europe and climate change sceptic AfD is now set to emerge from the election as the country‘s third-biggest parliamentary force, with more than 90 lawmakers in the German parliament.

The Central Council of Jews in Germany said the surge in support for the AfD was the biggest challenge facing post-war Germany. Hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets in many German cities late Sunday to protest the party‘s election success.

"We‘ve made it - we will change this country," declared AfD co-founder Alexander Gauland, who recently called on Germans to stop atoning for their past and to be proud of the soldiers they sent to the world wars.

"She (Merkel) will have to get ready. We will hunt her," Gauland said. "We will claim back our country and our people."

Otherwise, the FDP was one of the other winners on election night after it bounced back into parliament after being wiped out of the Bundestag in 2013 because it failed to reach a 5-per-cent requirement for entry. Hard-left party Die Linke also managed to reverse losses from 2013 by picking up 9.2 per cent of the vote on Sunday.

The election also gave the Greens something to celebrate, with the vote for the environmental party rising to 8.9 per cent, after dropping more than 2 percentage points in the last election.

Sunday‘s poor result for the CDU-CSU bloc was lower than the 33.8 per cent that the conservatives scored in 2005, when Merkel edged the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) from power.

Helping to drag down the overall CDU-CSU vote was a plunge in support for the CSU, which only fields candidates in the southern state of Bavaria, where support slumped in comparison to four years ago.

CSU chief and Bavarian Premier Horst Seehofer declared after the AfD result that the CDU-CSU now needed to respond to "a right-wing flank" by strengthening the right-wing message of the Merkel bloc.


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