German Chancellor Angela Merkel casts her ballot Sunday at a polling station in Berlin, Germany. Photo by Clemens Bilan/EPA
Sept. 24 (UPI) -- German Chancellor Angela Merkel was re-elected to a fourth term but the right-wing nationalists earned their first seats in parliament, according to exit polls Sunday.
Merkel said she had hoped for a "better result" than the 33 percent received by her conservative Christian Democratic Union, along with its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union.
If this number holds up in actual votes counted, it would represent the worst performance under her 12-year leadership, including 41.5 percent in 2013.
Merkel's former alliance member, the Social Democrats, had 20.5 percent. She must patch together a coalition that could include the black CDU/CSU; the yellow, business-friendly Free Democrats who are returning to the Bundestag after a four-year hiatus; and the Greens. In all there are 630 seats in parliament.
"Today we can say that we now have a mandate to assume responsibility and we're going to assume this responsibility calmly, talking with our partners of course," Merkel said.
She added that she would listen to the "concerns, worries and anxieties" of voters of the anti-immigration, anti-Islam Alternative for Germany to win them back.
The nationalist AfD has risen in popularity since the chancellor in 2015 allowed into the country almost 900,000 undocumented refugees and migrants, many of them from mainly Muslim countries that include Syria.
The nationalists would become the third party, with 12.6 percent, higher than earlier polls projecting 11 percent.
Prominent AfD figure Frauke Petry posted on Twitter that the results were a "political earthquake".
About 61.5 million people age 18 and older were eligible to vote at 88,000 locations, which opened at 8 a.m. local time and closed at 6 p.m.
Merkel cast her vote at a polling station in Berlin.
"My request to everyone is that they vote, and vote for those parties that adhere 100 percent to our constitution," said Merkel.
The SPD challenger, Martin Schulz, cast his ballot in his hometown of Wurselen in western Germany.
Schulz, who had called the far-right party "the gravediggers of democracy," said Sunday night "it's a difficult and bitter day for social democrats in Germany. We haven't reached our objective."
The Social Democrats had their worst election result since 1949, including 25.6 percentage four years ago. He said the party has ended the "grand coalition" with Merkel's alliance.
The Alternative for Germany party was founded as a protest against European bailouts for Greece.
"Refugees have a different culture that doesn't fit in here," Jens Toepfer, 36, an engineer who voted for AfD, said to The Washington Post. "They should go back where they came from and fight for their freedom and reconstruction."
Merkel's supporters see her as a calming force.
"It doesn't look good in the world. If you listen to that guy in America and also in the East with his atomic weapons, you get scared," Elida Baller, 84, told The Washington Post, referring to U.S. President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.