A nationalist, anti-immigration party performed strongly in a German state election Sunday in the region where Chancellor Angela Merkel has her political base, overtaking her conservatives to take second place amid discontent with her migrant policies, projections indicated.
The three-year-old Alternative for Germany, or AfD, won 20.8% of votes in the election for the state legislature in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. Merkel’s Christian Democrats polled 19%, their worst result yet in the state.
The centre-left Social Democrats, who led the outgoing state government, were the strongest party with about 30% support.
This was a dark day for Merkel,” Thomas Jaeger, a political scientist at Cologne University, told Reuters. “Everyone knows that she lost this election. Her district in parliament is there, she campaigned there, and refugees are her issue.”
Economically weak Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, in Germany’s northeastern corner, is home to 1.6 million of the country’s 80 million people and is a relative political lightweight. It is, however, the state where Merkel has her parliamentary constituency, and Sunday’s regional vote was the first of five before a national election expected next September.
The beginning of the end
National AfD leader Frauke Petry celebrated “a blow to Angela Merkel.” Local AfD leader Leif-Erik Holm told supporters: “Perhaps this is the beginning of the end of Angela Merkel’s chancellorship today.”
Merkel’s refugee policies were a prominent issue in the campaign for Sunday’s election, which came a year to the day after she decided to let in migrants from Hungary — setting off the peak of last year’s influx. Germany registered more than one million people as asylum-seekers last year.
New arrivals in Germany have slowed drastically this year, policies have been tightened and Mecklenburg is home to few foreigners. Still, New Year’s Eve robberies and sexual assaults in Germany blamed largely on foreigners, as well as two attacks in July carried out by asylum-seekers and claimed by IS, have fed tensions.
Merkel has stuck to her insistence that “we will manage” the refugee crisis, and has also said that “sometimes you have to endure such controversies.”
“This result, and the strong performance of AfD, is bitter for many, for everyone in our party,” said Peter Tauber, her Christian Democrats’ general secretary.
He said the state government’s positive record took a back seat for many voters, “because among a recognizable part, there was an explicit wish to voice displeasure and protest, and we saw that particularly strongly in the discussion about refugees.”
Sunday’s result could make it more difficult for Merkel to bury a festering dispute with the Christian Social Union, the Bavarian arm of her conservative bloc, which has long criticized her decision to open the borders and advocated an annual cap on migrants.
CSU general secretary Andreas Scheuer said that “we feel vindicated in our course.”
[This is an excerpt of a CBC article, which can be found at http://bit.ly/2bZF7PQ]