Merkel tries to build coalition

Germany’s Angela Merkel began the tough task of trying to build a government yesterday after securing a fourth term as chancellor, urging the centre-left Social Democrats not to shut the door on a re-run of their “grand coalition”.

Damaged by her decision two years ago to allow more than one million migrants into Germany, Merkel’s conservative bloc secured 33% of the vote, losing 8.5 points – its lowest level since 1949.

Her coalition partners, the centreleft Social Democrats, also slumped and said they would go into opposition.

Voters flocked to the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD), the first far-right party to enter the German parliament in more than 50 years. However, the AfD hardly had time to savour its third-place showing before it fell into internal bickering.

Many Germans see the rise of the AfD as a similar rejection of the status quo as votes for Brexit and Donald Trump last year.

But Germany’s political centre held up better than in Britain and the United States, as more voters have benefited from globalisation and most shun the country’s extremist past.

Merkel’s party remained the biggest parliamentary bloc, and Europe’s most powerful leader sought to keep her coalition options open yesterday, saying she would start talks with the Free Democrats (FDP) and the Greens as well as the SPD.

SPD leader Martin Schulz said earlier his party had no choice but to go into opposition “to defend democracy against those who question it and attack it”, after dropping to a post-war low of 20.5%.

“I heard the SPD’s words, nevertheless we should remain in contact,” Merkel told a news conference.

“I think all parties have a responsibility to ensure that there will be a stable government.”

Merkel made it clear she still intended to serve a full four years as chancellor.

But her next coalition could be her toughest yet with her only remaining potential partners, the businessfriendly FDP and the pro-regulation Greens, at odds on issues from migrants to tax, the environment and Europe.

The FDP’s leader Christian Lindner set the stage for tricky talks, saying his party would not agree to a coalition with the conservatives and the Greens, dubbed “Jamaica” because the parties’ colours mirror that country’s flag, at any price.

He said changes were needed in Germany’s energy policy and its stance on euro zone fiscal policy.

But he struck a more conciliatory tone on Europe, saying Germany had an interest in a strong France. – AFP

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