On Sunday, Angela Merkel won her fourth term as Chancellor of Germany.
Merkel, who has been in power for more than a decade, along with her conservative Christian Union (CDU/CSU) bloc, garnered around 34 percent of the vote.
Its nearest rivals, the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and their candidate Martin Schulz, came in a distant second, with about 20-21 percent of the vote.
However, Merkel would do well not to celebrate too much.
After all, while Merkel's party remains the largest group in German Parliament, this is their worst performance since 1949 and pales in comparison to 2013, when they won 41.5 percent of the vote, CNBC reported.
Merkel's win was also 'tainted' by the news of the hard-right Alternative for Germany (AFD) party, anti-Islam, anti-immigration party, winning 13 percent of the vote and entering the German Bundestag (German Parliament).
The AfD finished much stronger than most observers dared predict, becoming the first unabashedly racist, anti-foreigner party to sit in Germany’s Parliament since the days of Hitler, Politico reported.
One of two AFD leading candidates, Alexander Gauland, has called for Germans to shed their guilt over two world wars and the Holocaust and to take pride in their veterans.
He has also suggested that Germany's integration commissioner Aydan Ozoguz, who has Turkish roots, should be "disposed of in Anatolia".
Gauland, reacting to the election results, said his party would “hunt” Merkel over her refugee policy and renewed his party's demand to examine the legal grounds on which she opened Germany’s borders during the refugee crisis of 2015, The Guardian reported.
Incidentally, the AFD was formed in 2013 and the slow erosion of Merkel's support seems to coincide with its rise.
CNBC reported that while left-wing parties like the SDP saw some of their traditional voter base — those from the working class from the more industrial parts of the nation — move towards AFD, voters also left Merkel's conservative alliance of the Christian Democrats (CDU) and Christian Social Union (CSU) as some had trouble with her liberal immigration policy.
Merkel's grip on power began to loosen since the moment the first returns rolled in and support for her party fell despite low unemployment, a strong economy and a host of other positives that, by all rights, should have guaranteed the Christian Democrats an easy win, the Politico report stated, adding that voters were unhappy with Merkel's handling of the refugee crisis.
Merkel, 63, whose campaign events were regularly disrupted by jeering AFD supporters, said in her final stump speech in the southern city of Munich that "the future of Germany will definitely not be built with whistles and hollers".
Merkel, often called the most powerful woman on the global stage, ran on her record as a steady pair of hands in a turbulent world, warning voters not to indulge in "experiments".
Pundits said Merkel's reassuring message of stability and prosperity resonated in greying Germany, where more than half of the 61 million voters are aged 52 or older.
Her popularity had largely recovered from the influx, since 2015, of more than one million mostly Muslim migrants and refugees, half of them from war-torn Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
A new political player?
According to a report in The Guardian, AFD will become the third largest party and is on course to occupy 88 seats in the Bundestag, compared with 217 for the CDU/CSU and 137 for the SPD.
The fact is that even though this performance doesn't make the AFD a kingmaker, it could potentially make them a political player.
Merkel's CDU and the SPD have signalled that they aren't keen to continue their loveless marriage. The SDP's catastrophic result may convince many rank-and-file members that the traditional working-class party would benefit from a stint in Opposition to rekindle its fighting spirit.
This would leave Merkel in need of new coalition partners: possibly the pro-business Free Democrats, who staged a comeback after crashing out of the Bundestag four years ago. In theory, they could join forces with the left-leaning Greens, who, however, starkly differ with the FDP on issues from climate change to migration policy.
But could the unthinkable happen?
According to a report in The Wire, the AFD's arrival into German Parliament will likely engender a different era in German politics and leave behind the consensus-based approach which has taken hold since the post-war period.
Coalition building after the election will be an arduous process that could take months as all potential partners are unsure whether they really want to share power with Merkel and all major parties refuse to work with the AFD, according to The Wire report.
"This Alternative for Germany is no alternative. They are a shame for our nation," former European Parliament chief Schulz told a rally in Berlin on Friday.
While that may be true, no one should ever forget that old adage about politics making for strange bedfellows.
But even if AFD remains isolated, the fact remains that it was able to capitalise on a wellspring of anger over the asylum issue during what was criticised as a largely lacklustre campaign bereft of real clashes among the main contenders.
Refugees are worried
Merkel's conservatives and their SDP coalition partners in the outgoing government quietly introduced stricter asylum rules last year after losing support to the AFD in regional elections.
Refugees fear that the AFD's stunning showing of more than 13 percent of the vote on Sunday could spell even tougher immigration rules under the next Merkel-led government.
"She is less popular because of us," said Nabil Zainaldin, 32, from Aleppo. "We totally understand that Germans are worried. All we can do to reassure them is to be law-abiding citizens.
"But we are also worried: what will the asylum policy of the new government be?"
'Would have preferred a better result'
Merkel conceded that "of course we would have preferred a better result, that's completely clear."
But she noted that her party has been in power for 12 years and said the last four years have been "extremely challenging."
Perhaps Merkel's greatest challenges lie ahead.
With inputs from agencies
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Updated Date: Sep 25, 2017 22:00:28 IST