Leading AfD figure refuses to join German party's parliamentary group

Germany's far-right Alternative for Germany AfD party burn a private fireworks during an election campaign tour by ship on the river Rhine near Krefeld western Germany

Sunday's national result wasn't a complete surprise: the AfD has won seats in 13 of Germany's 16 state legislatures, including a 24.3-per-cent share of the vote in the eastern region of Saxony Anhalt previous year.

During the four years since the last election, the AfD has completely transformed itself.

"We will take back our country and our people", Alexander Gauland, one of the AfD's leading candidates, told a crowd of supporters after exit polls came in.

Controversial bikini ads pushing an anti-immigration agenda have been one of the tactics used by a German far-right political party, which has led to the best results for a radical right wing group in Germany since World War II.

AfD drew support from people who previously voted for Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative bloc and from many who didn't previously vote at all.

First formed in 2013 at the height of Europe's debt crisis as an anti-European Union and anti-Euro party, the AfD has since turned its focus to immigration and Islam.

Frauke Petry ran for election as a member of the nationalist Alternative of Germany (AfD) party, however she announced her shock decision to leave just hours after the election, meaning she will be an independent MP.

The AfD also pushed the boundaries of publicly acceptable views around the country's history.

"I'm German", Gauland said.

Merkel said she was confident that a new government would be in place before Christmas, and noted that no other group could build a coalition against her.

"The Central Council of Jews in Germany said the election results had confirmed its worst fears and urged other parties to remain united in opposing the AfD".

Often more extreme sentiment slipped through their messaging, however, including earlier this year when one candidate slammed the country for its public remembrance of Nazi crimes, saying Berlin's Holocaust memorial is "a monument of shame in the heart of the capital".

He added: "I don't believe Sigmar Gabriel is stupid enough to really believe we are Nazis". The results put the AfD on course to become the second largest party in the East, after the CDU. The largest share of votes for the AfD came from eastern Germany, according to preliminary data from the political polling firm Infratest Dimap.

Although the AfD saw the biggest increase in seats during Sunday's election, several other smaller parties also capitalized on dissatisfaction with Merkel's Christian Democratic Union and its coalition partner the Social Democratic Party.

Almost half of voters turned away from the country's two largest parties.

Her former partners in government, the center-left SPD, chose to return to opposition after exit polls suggested its share of the vote fell to 21.6% from 25.7% in 2013.

"I decided after careful reflection that I will not sit with the (AfD) parliamentary group" in the Bundestag, Petry told a press conference alongside other key figures in the party before abruptly leaving the room.

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