BERLIN • Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives secured a fourth consecutive term in office yesterday in an election that brought a far-right party into the German Parliament for the first time in more than half a century, exit polls indicated.
Dr Merkel's conservative bloc - her Christian Democrats and their Bavarian allies, the Christian Social Union - won 32.5 per cent of the vote, making them by far the largest parliamentary group, according to an exit poll for the broadcaster ARD.
Their closest rivals, the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD), slumped to 20 per cent - a new post-war low.
The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) stunned the establishment by finishing third and entering Parliament for the first time with 13.5 per cent.
The left-wing Die Linke party received 9 per cent of the votes, the same as the Greens, and the Free Democratic Party also ensured its representation in Parliament with 10 per cent of the vote.
The turnout in the election stood at 75 per cent, up from 71.5 per cent in 2013.
Dr Merkel, Europe's longest-serving leader, joins her mentor Helmut Kohl, who reunified Germany, and Mr Konrad Adenauer, who led Germany's rebirth after World War II, as the only post-war chancellors to win four national elections.
She must now form a coalition government - an arduous process that could take months as all potential partners are unsure whether they really want to share power with her.
But SPD deputy leader Manuela Schwesig said the result was a heavy defeat for the party and meant the end of the party's support for Dr Merkel's government. It will now be in the opposition.
Absent a grand coalition, Dr Merkel's choices may be limited. Her preference was believed to be a partnership with the Free Democrats, a pro-business party that missed winning parliamentary seats in the last election, but those two do not have enough seats on their own to form a majority.
That could force her to turn to the Green Party for help in what would be called a "Jamaica coalition" - a reference to the parties' colours, which match the Caribbean nation's flag.
A three-party government would be new for modern Germany, and could limit Dr Merkel's room to manoeuvre as she attempts to bridge critical divides.
But the parties also agree on much, part of the strikingly solid establishment consensus that Dr Merkel has forged in her 12 years as chancellor. It is a consensus that spawned a backlash among voters who want some sort of alternative.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, WASHINGTON POST, REUTERS