German sitting Chancellor Angela Merkel (Front) is applauded after the preliminary exit poll at the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party's headquarters in Berlin, Germany, on Sept. 24, 2017. (Xinhua/Luo Huanhuan)
BERLIN, Sept. 24 (Xinhua) -- The conservative union led by German sitting Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday defended its commanding role in the Bundestag (German parliament) with 32.5 percent of the vote, falling short of expectations with a 9-percentage-point gap compared with the election four years ago.
In the last Bundestag election of 2013, Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party with its sister Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU) party secured 41.5 percent of the vote.
LESS VOTES FOR MERKEL'S PARTY
The lower-than-expected margin will still offer a decent chance for Merkel to claim her fourth term as Chancellor.
Senior official of the CDU Volker Kauder told reporters after the election that the CDU had reached its expectation in the election, and Merkel will remain in office as chancellor and will be granted the mandatory to form the new cabinet.
In a televised speech after the election, Merkel told her supporters that "we have clear government mandate, and no government can be formed without us", admitting that her bloc had reached strategic goal in election though she had hoped for better results.
She also promised to win back voters of far-right party Alternative fuer Deutschland (AfD) with good policies, vowing to fight against illegal immigrants while protecting interests of legal citizens.
Despite Merkel's bitter victory, Andreas Quebbemann, member of the state parliament in Niedersachsen, said he was Very disappointed with the result.
"We lost so many voters because they dissatisfied with CDU's policy, such as the refugee policy. But they switched to AfD not because they believed AfD can provide solutions, but an expression of their dissatisfaction to us," Quebbemann told Xinhua.
"As to the coalition cabinet, there is only one option left for CDU -- joint FDP and the Green Party. But we have many differences with the Green Party. The coalition is bound to be a difficult one, but I believe the final compromise will be reached. Because this is politics," Quebbemann added.
SPD'S HISTORICAL LOW
Meanwhile, the Union's main rival, Germany's center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) led by former European Parliament president Martin Schulz, also suffered a big setback and took just 20 percent of the vote, marking the lowest vote since World War II, according to a preliminary exit poll.
For his part, Schulz said the election marked a "historic crash" for the SPD. But Thomas Oppermana, a senior official of the party, said Schulz will continue to be the president of the party despite the "crash" and led the renovation of the party.
According to local media ARD, Schulz said his party had no intention to form a coalition government with the conservative union and "will go to the opposite".
He said his party is a "strong bulwark" against would-be lawmakers from the right-wing AfD.
"We are a strong bulwark against the enemies of democracy that we now have in parliament," Schulz said in a television interview.
He referred to the AfD's result as "depressing", saying that widespread fears about the refugee crisis had fuelled support for the right-wing party.
"This is a turning point," said Schulz. "It's clear that the decision to welcome refugees has divided our society. What is a great act of humanity to some seems threatening to others. We didn't manage to convince people that Germany is strong enough to leave no one behind."
Lisa Price, official of SPD's state commission in Brandenburg, told Xinhua that refusing the grand coalition (CDU/CSU plus SPD) is SPD's victory, because "SPD will finally have the opportunity to prove itself".
"Staying out the grand coalition will make SPD more distinctive and could focus on such issues as the interests of the low-income groups as an opposition party," she told Xinhua.
AFD CELEBRATIONS MEET WITH PROTEST
In another development, the AfD crossed the five-percent-vote threshold on Sunday came into the new parliament for the first time with about 13.5 percent of votes, becoming the third strongest party in the Bundestag.
It is also the first far-right populist party in the Bundestag since WWII.
"We will hunt Merkel! We want to bring our country and people back," said Alexander Gauland, one of the two candidates of the AfD in this election who always accuses Merkel's policies in refugees and euro crisis.
"It's a historical and outstanding result for AfD. We will experience more pluralism in the Bundestag, and we will experience a lively democracy through the AfD," said AfD's politician Bjoern Hoecke.
However, Hoecke's joyful words met with protests and demonstrations against AfD shortly after.
Hundreds of demonstrators gathered on Berlin's Alexanderplatz on Sunday evening, bearing umbrellas to keep dry and waving anti-AfD signs to protest AfD's election result.
Later, the crowd shouted as one, "The whole of Berlin hates the AfD."
Police were monitoring the situation and prohibiting the protesters from drawing close to the building housing the AfD's party.
According to security authority, AfD supporters were cleared off the building's balcony after demonstrators on the ground threw objects in that direction.
Similar anti-AfD protests also took place on the other side of the country in Cologne. Demonstrators met in front of the west German city's central train station before marching through the streets with a banner reading "Whoever is silent, is complicit".
Founded in 2013, the eurosceptic and anti-immigration party -- which welcomed Brexit, missed the Bundestag with 4.7 percent of votes in the same year.
The party gained momentum during the Euro and the refugee crisis. It was polling at around 10 percent before Sunday's federal election.
About 73,500 polling stations across the country opened at 8:00 a.m. local time (0600 GMT) and closed at 6:00 p.m. (1600 GMT).
Official statistics showed that Sunday's turnout of the election stood at 75 percent, higher than the 71.5 percent in 2013.