For Angela Merkel, the outcome of the German election was nothing short of a “nightmare victory.” Or at least that’s how German newspaper Bild and other local media outlets described the performance of the longtime chancellor, whose fourth-term reelection was overshadowed by the better-than-expected showing of the far-right party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD).
The outcome certainly isn’t ideal for Merkel. She now faces the challenge of forming a new government with less parliamentary representation—her center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), lost 65 seats combined—and without the support of the center-left Social Democratic Party, a former “grand coalition” partner that has vowed to go into the opposition after its own dismal showing. This leaves Merkel’s CDU/CSU with one viable option for retaining a majority government: a three-way coalition with the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) and the Greens, two smaller parties that both enjoyed electoral gains.
Many have bemoaned the AfD’s parliamentary debut and the apparent loss of Merkel’s grand coalition as a sign of Germany’s lurch to the right—but this doesn’t tell the full story. While the AfD’s inclusion in the German parliament will certainly have an impact, however marginal, on the country’s politics as we know it, the same could be said for the rise of other small parties: Despite not earning as many seats as the AfD, they have reemerged as significant players in a political scene long dominated by the same center-left and center-right parties. It’s a reconfiguration of German politics that Cas Mudde, a professor at the University of Georgia and the co-author of Populism: A Very Short Introduction, described as the “de-alignment from the mainstream parties, rather than re-alignment to AfD.”