Merkel seeks partners in splintered Germany

Berlin :Chancellor Angela Merkel got down to work today in the fractured political landscape left by Germany’s “earthquake” election, seeking a ruling majority to help neutralise a newly empowered hard right.

Merkel huddled with her conservative deputies in the Bundestag lower house, where their CDU/CSU group saw its seats axed to 246 from 309 following its worst poll showing in seven decades.

Also at the glass-domed Reichstag parliament building for the first time were the 93 deputies of the Alternative for Germany, a party branded far-right by many German officials and media outlets.

“The language of the campaign is different than the one in parliament,” one of the party’s leading members, Alexander Gauland, told reporters outside the main chamber.

“We know that we have a big responsibility in parliament, also to our voters.”

Gauland, a CDU defector, had sparked outrage in the run- up to the election for incendiary comments, including urging Germans to be “proud” of their WWII veterans.

But even as the AfD aimed to show it was ready for the national stage, one of its co-leaders, Frauke Petry, spoiled the celebration.

One day after stunning the political scene with the news that she would not join with the AfD’s parliamentary group due to “dissent” with more hardline colleagues, she announced today she would be quitting the party.

Petry will serve as an independent MP but for now took no other defectors in the Bundestag with her although several local deputies said they would also leave the party.

In Sunday’s election, the AfD poached support from both mainstream camps, the conservatives and the Social Democrats (SPD), junior partners in the “grand coalition” that has led Germany for eight of Merkel’s 12 years in power.

According to opinion polls, most of those voters pointed to anger over Merkel’s border policy, which allowed more than one million asylum seekers into the country since 2015.

After the SPD scored a humiliating 20.5 per cent, a post-war record, it ruled out further cooperation with Merkel, meaning her search for a ruling alliance became infinitely more complicated.

Commentators said today that Merkel’s only other option — trying a link-up with the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) and the ecologist Greens — would be fraught with risk.

The grouping has been dubbed a Jamaica coalition for the parties’ colours matching the Caribbean nation’s flag.

Germans seem to have warmed to the idea, with a poll by the independent Infratest dimap institute showing 57 per cent support.

However strong ideological differences could hinder the alliance.