BERLIN (Reuters) - Chancellor Angela Merkel won a fourth term in office on Sunday but will have to build an uneasy coalition to form a German government after her conservatives haemorrhaged support in the face of a surge by the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD).
Following are highlights of comments and reactions:
CENTRE-RIGHT CDU/CSU BLOC
ANGELA MERKEL, CDU party leader, told supporters in Berlin: “Of course we had hoped for a slightly better result. But we mustn’t forget that we have just completed an extraordinarily challenging legislative period, so I am happy that we reached the strategic goals of our election campaign,” Merkel said.
“We are the strongest party, we have the mandate to build the next government - and there cannot be a coalition government built against us,” Merkel added.
Speaking during a television debate of the main parties’ top candidates, Merkel said: “Numerically there are still two ways to form a coalition. Numerically SPD and CDU/CSU have enough. The question of the responsibility that everyone has is not just theory but a practical question... I have heard that the SPD is not available for talks, but we can talk about that again tomorrow.”
“We will sleep on it and then hold some talks... I intend for Germany to have a stable government,” Merkel added.
HORST SEEHOFER, CSU leader and Bavarian Prime Minister, told broadcaster ARD: “We had a vacuum on the right side that we need to close now. The best way to do that is with policies that ensure that Germany remains Germany and that we have the immigration and security questions under control.”
Seehofer told broadcaster ZDF:
“The Christian Democrats will have to get together and explore whether a government is possible; we owe this to our country (...) We don’t want (a coalition) with the AfD or with the Left party, but all other democratic forces should at least speak to each other and explore what is can be achieved over the next years. But the CSU will not enter into any false compromises that would cement the division of our country.”
ALEXANDER DOBRINDT, a senior CSU member, said: “I believe for everyone in the government this is a bitter election night. But I think it is too early to draw conclusions - like the SPD.”
THOMAS DE MAIZIERE, senior CDU member and interior minister, said: “We all have responsibility for the country, we cannot say after six weeks that we need new elections because we didn’t manage (to form a coalition)... that would be the worst signal, then the Left and AfD would end up getting even more votes, and that would not be right.”
VOLKER KAUDER, parliamentary floor leader of Merkel’s conservatives, told ARD television that his party reached its goal to win the election. “We have the mandate to lead the next government,” Kauder said.
CENTRE-LEFT SOCIAL DEMOCRATS (SPD)
MARTIN SCHULZ, SPD party leader and chancellor candidate, told supporters in Berlin that this election was a “bitter day” for Germany’s Social Democrats, adding: “Especially depressing for all of us is the strength of the AfD, which for the first time brings a right-wing party into German parliament in such a strong position. This is a turning point.”
“The fact that we took in more than 1 million refugees in our country is still dividing in our country. What for some has been an act of humanity and charity is to others menacing, strange and filled with fear. We did not manage to persuade all of our voters that Germany is strong enough not to leave anyone behind,” Schulz said.
Schulz told ZDF broadcaster: “We cannot have an extreme right-wing party leading the opposition in Germany, therefore ... we will go into opposition.” He added: “Our role is quite clear: we are the opposition party.”
Schulz told ARD broadcaster: “I have the full backing of the party leadership to lead and renew the party... But I will not aim for (parliamentary) floor leadership but fully concentrate on the renewal of the party.”
MANUELA SCHWESIG, SPD deputy party leader, told ZDF broadcaster: “That is a really bad result for the SPD. That is a heavy defeat... For us, the grand coalition ends today. For us it’s clear that we’ll go into opposition as demanded by voters.”
THOMAS OPPERMANN, SPD parliamentary floor leader, told ARD broadcaster: “We must of course accept the voters’ choice, they (AfD) are a party in parliament now... But I will say very clearly that if there are any racist tones in this parliament, we will object to them, very clearly.”
Oppermann told broadcaster ARD, when asked whether Schulz would remain party head: “Martin Schulz started the renewal process of the SPD at the party meeting in March, and he will continue that renewal. We win together and we lose together.”
PRO-BUSINESS FREE DEMOCRATS (FDP)
CHRISTIAN LINDNER, FDP party leader told ZDF television: “We want to reverse the trend for our country and if it becomes apparent in talks that these goals can be achieved then of course we will be available (for a coalition) but if not, then it would be our task to go into opposition.”
Lindner added: “It’s about stability now, all parties have to take responsibility. We will not be pushed into a coalition just because the SPD makes a unilateral retreat into the opposition.”
WOLFGANG KUBICKI, FDP deputy party leader, told broadcaster ARD: “You cannot force the Greens and us into a coalition just because the SPD bows out.”
CEM OZDEMIR, top election candidate for the Greens, said the party would not take part in “anti-European populism” in a possible coalition with the conservatives and the FDP. He told broadcaster ZDF that climate change and social justice policies were requirements for the Greens to form a government.
KATRIN GOERING-ECKARDT, top candidate for the Greens, said: “We have a job to do for the voters. They voted for us as a party that represents a united Europe, as an ecological party that stands for environmental protection, we have a climate pact from Paris and will push for that to be implemented. And we stand for fairness... We will see if there can be cooperation.”
FAR-RIGHT ALTERNATIVE FOR GERMANY (AFD)
ALEXANDER GAULAND, top AFD election candidate, said: “The government, whatever it will look like, should get ready for tough times. We’ll chase them. We’ll take back our country and our people.”
JOERG MEUTHEN, AfD party co-leader, said: “What is happening in our country is a gradual dissolution of our nation. Let us talk about that in a democratic discourse. I accept that some people have a different opinion.”
FAR-LEFT LEFT PARTY
SAHRA WAGENKNECHT, top election candidate of the Left, blamed the governing parties, Merkel’s conservatives and the SPD, for the success of the anti-immigration AfD. She added that her party scored its second-best election result.
“I hope that the SPD sticks with its decision of going into the opposition,” Wagenknecht added. “But I also hope that won’t be their only decision, that they realize that we need a social democratic party with social democratic policies if we don’t want the AfD to keep getting stronger.”
THOMAS GITZEL, VP Bank chief economist, said: “The real shocker today is: The SPD wants to go into opposition. The only remaining option is a Jamaica coalition of CDU, FDP and the Greens. Three-party alliances are difficult to form and often unstable.”
HOLGER SCHMIEDING, Berenberg Bank chief economist: “The consequences for Germany’s economic policies are nearly zero. The positions of (the three parties in) a possible Jamaica coalition are not that far apart.”
Schmieding added: “If the FDP were to take over the Finance Ministry, a FDP Finance Minister would not differ significantly from Schaeuble’s positions on Europe. I think there won’t be major changes regarding Berlin’s stance on Europe.”
Reporting by Berlin newsroom