Merkel expected to win fourth term as chancellor

BERLIN Germans voted yesterday in a general election expected to hand Chancellor Angela Merkel a fourth term while the hard-right nationalist Alternative for Germany (AfD) is expected to make history by winning its first seats in Parliament.

Europe's most powerful woman appears all but assured of winning another term, in theory matching the 16-year reign of her mentor Helmut Kohl.

Surveys suggested her Christian Social Union-Christian Democratic Union alliance has a double-digit lead over its nearest rivals, the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) of Mr Martin Schulz.

With four other parties predicted to clear the 5 per cent threshold to enter the Bundestag, the highest number since the 1950s, it could take months of coalition wrangling before the next government takes shape.

But mainstream parties have already ruled out talking to the anti-Islam, anti-immigration AfD, which is polling at 11 per cent to 13 per cent and could bethe third strongest party.

Alarmed by the prospect of what Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel branded "real Nazis" entering the Bundestag for the first since World War II, politicians used their final days of campaigning to urge voters to reject the AfD.

"This Alternative for Germany is no alternative... (It is) a shame for our nation," Mr Schulz told a rally last Friday.

The latest surveys put support for Ms Merkel's conservative block at 34 per cent to 36 per cent, with the SPD trailing at 21 per cent to 22 per cent - which would translate into a historic low for the party.

Observers said a strong showing by the AfD would hit Germany like a bombshell. - AFP