Merkel Appears Victorious, But Coalition's Future Uncertain
ARUN RATH, HOST:
In Germany today, exit polls show that Chancellor Angela Merkel has won a third term with her party getting the most votes. But one of the key members in her ruling coalition appears to have been voted out of parliament, leaving it unclear who Merkel will partner with in her next government.
NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson has the story from Berlin.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHANTING)
SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Merkel's supporters chanted her name as they celebrated what appeared to be a major win for her Christian Democratic Union party.
CHANCELLOR ANGELA MERKEL: (Foreign language spoken)
NELSON: Merkel beamed as she thanked voters and promised she would not betray their trust. But her hopes of returning her current coalition to power appear dashed as exit polls show a key member of that group, the Free Democratic Party, failed to win any seats in the Bundestag, Germany's parliament, for the first time in six decades.
RAINER BRUEDERLE: (Foreign language spoken)
NELSON: The party's top candidate, Rainer Bruederle, somberly told reporters that he takes responsibility for what he described as a dark hour. Why the Free Democrats failed to attract voters wasn't clear, although Bruederle's approval ratings dropped after he was accused earlier this year of sexually harassing a young female reporter for the German Stern magazine. His appeal to Merkel voters last week to cast their party vote for the FDP was heavily criticized by her party.
The FDP loss means Merkel will likely have to strike a deal with her left-leaning opponents, the Social Democrats, to create a new ruling coalition as exit polls show her party is just shy of a majority. The party's Peer Steinbrueck, who ran against Merkel, told supporters the ball is in the chancellor's court to create a new ruling coalition.
PEER STEINBRUECK: (Foreign language spoken)
NELSON: Steinbrueck also expressed disappointment in getting less than 26 percent of the vote. Other parties that appear to have won seats in the next parliament include the former communist Left Party and the Green Party. Whether a new political party called Alternative for Germany made it into the Bundestag was unclear. The party advocates breaking up the eurozone and is believed to have siphoned off critical conservative votes from Merkel's coalition. Exit polls show the new party is just a tenth of a percent shy of having the minimum votes needed to win seats.
Meanwhile, German voters turned out in far larger numbers than recent opinion polls had predicted because of voter disillusionment. Many voters interviewed by NPR over the past week said they were frustrated that candidates weren't addressing domestic issues more, including a shortage of affordable housing and a lack of minimum wage. One of those voters was Tom Gieser.
TOM GIESER: (Foreign language spoken)
NELSON: The 45-year-old locksmith said he invalidated his ballot in protest because he felt none of the major parties are serious about addressing voters' concerns. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Berlin.