Germany may see 'Jamaica coalition' as Merkel wins, but with lower numbers

German Chancellor Angela Merkel won a fourth term Sunday, but without an absolute majority. She now faces the tricky prospect of forming a coalition with two disparate new partners after voters weakened her conservatives while the nationalist, anti-migrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) made significant gains.

With all 299 constituencies reporting, Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party the CSU came out ahead in the national election with 33 per cent of the vote - down from 41.5 per cent four years ago. It was one of their weakest showings since World War II.

Rival Social Democrats (SPD) led by Martin Schulz tumbled to a mere 20.5 per cent - down from 25.7 per cent in 2013 and undercutting their previous post-war low of 23 per cent eight years ago.

The Green and Left parties remained about the same as they did in 2013 with 8.9 and 9.2 per cent respectively.

The only real success stories of the night were for the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) and far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD). After failing to make the 5-per cent hurdle to enter the Bundestag last time around, the FDP managed 10.7 per cent to cement its comeback.

The Free Democrats were Merkel's coalition partners in her second-term government from 2009-2013, but lost all their seats four years ago.

As for the populist AfD, a remarkable showing of 12.6 per cent means that Germany will have a far-right party in parliament for the first time in more than half a century.

Schulz conceded his Social Democrats had suffered a "crushing election defeat," with projections showing the party's worst performance in post-World War II Germany.

He vowed to take his party, the junior partner in Merkel's outgoing "grand coalition" of Germany's traditionally dominant parties, into opposition.

"We have a mandate to form a new government, and no government can be formed against us," Merkel told cheering supporters. She added that it wasn't a "matter of course" to finish first after 12 years in power, and that the past four years were "extremely challenging".

Stressing that "we live in stormy times" internationally, she declared, "I have the intention of achieving a stable government in Germany."

Far-right gains
The biggest winner was the four-year-old AfD. It finished third after a campaign that centered on shrill criticism of Merkel and her decision in 2015 to allow large numbers of migrants into Germany, but also harnessed wider discontent with established politicians.

One of AfD's leaders, Alice Weidel, said it will provide "constructive opposition". But co-leader Alexander Gauland struck a harsher tone, vowing that "we will take our country back" and promising to "chase" Merkel.

"In a country that is big on schadenfreude, our comeback is an encouraging message - after failure, a new beginning is possible," FDP leader Christian Lindner told supporters.

The Left Party took 9.2 per cent of the vote, coming slightly ahead of the traditionally left-leaning Greens who won 8.9 per cent, completing a parliament that now has six caucuses rather than the previous four.

All mainstream parties have ruled out working with AfD and Merkel's conservatives won't form a coalition with the Left Party.

That means two politically plausible governments are mathematically feasible: continuing the "grand coalition" or a combination of Merkel's Union bloc, the Free Democrats and Greens.

That alliance is known as a "Jamaica" coalition because the parties' colors match those of the Caribbean nation's flag. It has been tried, with mixed results, in state governments but never in a national government.

The Social Democrats were adamant Sunday night that they wouldn't continue to serve under Merkel.

''It is completely clear that the role the voters have given us is as the opposition," Schulz said.

Referring to AfD's third-place finish, he said, "There cannot be a far-right party leading the opposition in Germany."

Cobbling together a "Jamaica" coalition is likely to be time-consuming. The Free Democrats and Greens are traditional rivals. Four years ago, Merkel's conservatives and the Greens held exploratory talks on a two-party coalition but they came to nothing.

The result also looks set to re-ignite pressure within Merkel's bloc for a tougher conservative image. Bavarian Governor Horst Seehofer, who feuded with Merkel over the migrant influx before putting aside their differences this year, said the outcome showed that the conservatives need to close "an open flank to the right."

Reiner Haseloff, the conservative governor of eastern Saxony-Anhalt state, said it would be wrong to ignore AfD's strong result.

"We need an answer - there must be no democratic alternative to our right," he added. "As long as it is there, we haven't completely done our homework."

Merkel pledged a "thorough analysis, because we want to win back AfD voters by solving problems, by taking account of their concerns and fears, and above all with good policies.