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German election: Merkel holds onto leadership but far-right wins first seats since WW2

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Exit polls for the German election have revealed Angela Merkel will remain Chancellor for her fourth term but her victory has been overshadowed by the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party winning its first seats in the Bundestag.

Mrs Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party gained 32.9 per cent of seats, her coalition Social Democrats Party (SPD) led by former EU leader Martin Schulz, gained 20.8 per cent and the AfD 13.1 per cent.

The Left party gained 8.9 per cent of seats, the Greens 8.9 per cent and the Free Democratic Party (FDP) 10.5 per cent.

The AfD is now the third largest party in the Bundestag after it gained 119,000 votes from citizens who had previously not voted, and almost a million from the CDU.

Mrs Merkel's sister party, the CSU, which operates in Bavaria, had its worst result since 1949, while it was the national party's second worst result ever.

Mrs Merkel was predicted to gain more seats, however many Germans blame her for allowing thousands of migrants into the country two years ago during her open-door policy.

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Mr Schulz's SPD party has said it no longer wants to be in a coalition with the CDU and wants to be the official opposition to give a viable alternative to the AfD whose leader has made pro-Nazi comments.

Because of this, the only option left for Mrs Merkel is to to form a coalition with the Greens and FDP – called a 'Jamaican coalition' due to the three parties' green, yellow and black colours.

Later this evening there will be a live TV debate where the leaders will decide who will go into a coalition with each other.

As the polls closed at 6pm local time (5pm BST) voter turnout was predicted at 75 per cent compared to 71.5 per cent in the 2013 elections.

Angela Merkel.

Angela Merkel has won the German elections

Mrs Merkel, told a gathering of CDU politicians and supporters: “Friends, ladies and gents, of course we would have wanted a better result.

“But the strategic goals of the election campaign were achieved, no government can be built against us.

“This difficult election campaign was fun.

“After 12 years it is anything but certain the CDU is the strongest party. I want to gain AfD voters' confidence back by taking their fears seriously and also with good policies."

Horst Seehofer, leader of the CDU's sister party, the CSU, said he does not want to blame Mrs Merkel for losing voters and the AfD's support increase.

He said: "One problem from the last couple of weeks was that the AfD was talked about too much.

"Their good result was due to the last couple of weeks.

"I am disappointed by the result."

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel at CDU election event in Heppenheim EPA

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel at CDU election event in Heppenheim

Volker Kauder, the CDU's faction chief, said: "I am very disappointed with the result.

"We would have liked a better result."

SPD's chairman, Dietmar Woidke, said: "This is a bitter evening for the social Democrats."

SDP leader Martin Schulz, said: "It's a difficult and bitter day for the Social Democrats.

"There were fewer voters than we expected.

“The SPD will fight for principles and values of tolerance, respect and common values.

“With the percentage we got, we obviously didn’t manage to keep our traditional voter basis, despite many social successes.

“Especially depressing is the success of the AfD.

“We didn't manage to convince our traditional voters that Germany is strong enough to take in refugees.”

He said he will continue as head of the SDP as he is there for the party during both wins and losses, however he will not be the SDP leader in parliament.

He added: "We didn't achieve our goal today, but we can tomorrow."

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Mrs Merkel told supporters she was disappointed but at least they won

Germany pollNC

The CDU and SDP had losses but the AfD gained

Frauke Petry, who was AfD leader until a few weeks ago when she was ousted, said: "Our success is due to the voters who were disappointed by the CDU.

"Important questions were not discussed, even if it's difficult to talk about, we need to discuss them."

ARD-DeutschlandTrend, who compiled the exit polls, found 60 per cent of those who voted for the AfD, did so because they were disappointed with other parties.

Of those who voted for the AfD, 89 per cent said they voted for the party because the CDU has neglected its refugee policy and the worries of the German people.

Eight-six per cent said they thought 12 years of Mrs Merkel as Chancellor was enough and 74 per cent said the CDU has had too many conservative positions over the past few years.

A total of 49 per cent of voters thought the AfD understands people do not feel safe anymore, 37 per cent said they like the AfD wants to reduce the influence of Islam in Germany and 35 per cent said they like the AfD wants to reduce the influx of foreigners and refugees.

However, the majority, or 86 per cent of voters, felt the AfD does not distance itself enough from far-right, extremist positions.

Martin SchulzNC

Martin Schulz, leader of the SPD, said it was a bitter day for his party

Frauke PetryNC

The AfD's Frauke Petry said their success is down to disappointment with the CDU

In Germany's proportional election system, low turn-out can boost smaller parties, such as the hard-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), giving them more seats from the same number of votes.

In regional elections this year, Merkel's conservatives suffered setbacks from the AfD, which profited from resentment at her 2015 decision to open German borders to more than one million migrants.

But with the migrant issue under control this year, Merkel has overcome earlier doubts over running and thrown herself into a punishing campaign schedule, presenting herself as an anchor of stability in an uncertain world.

Visibly happier, Merkel campaigned with renewed conviction: a resolve to re-tool the economy for the digital age, to head off future migrant crises, and to defend a Western order shaken by Trump's victory last November.

The overall fall in turnout masked great regional variation. North Rhine-Westfalia,Germany's most populous state, reported a 3 percent increase in turnout, while the city of Munich saw a 10 percent increase. In some of the eastern states where the AfD is strong, turnout held steady.

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