German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party, weathering a torrent of discontent over her open-door refugee policies, suffered a humiliating setback Sunday in regional elections.
The Christian Democratic Union finished second in the Berlin state elections, with 17.5 percent of the vote, down 5 percentage points from the last election — its worst showing there since German reunification. It likely will be knocked out of coalition with the dominant Social Democrats.
“We have achieved a great result. The AfD has arrived in the German capital and is also on a direct path to the Bundestag.”
Meanwhile, the far-right Alternative for Germany party finished fifth with 14.1 percent, entering the 149-seat Berlin parliament for the first time.
“We have achieved a great result,” several news organizations quoted AfD deputy leader Beatrix von Storch as saying. “The AfD has arrived in the German capital and is also on a direct path to the Bundestag.”
AfD, which has capitalized on unease over the refugee crisis, now has won seats in 10 of Germany’s 16 state parliaments, according to The Wall Street Journal. Analysts said Sunday’s result in Berlin is particularly significant because of its symbolism as the nation’s capital and because it is a cosmopolitan metropolis with a left-leaning political ethos.
AfD has been stronger in the poorer parts of the country in the former East Germany. Two weeks ago, the Afd took 20.8 percent of the vote in Mecklenburg-West Pomerania, a north German state. The party finished ahead of the Christian Democrats for the first time.
Exit polls indicated that 32 percent of Berlin voters were afraid because so many Middle Eastern refugees have arrived.
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According to a survey published on Friday by the Pew Research Center, 61 percent of Germans nationwide believe refugees increase the likelihood of terrorism, while 36 percent disagreed. Among 10 European countries included in the survey, only Hungary and Poland registered higher percentages of people believing terrorism risks have increased.
The AfD is one of a number of nationalist political parties that have made inroads in country after country. Experts have pointed to concerns over refugees and economic migrants as a factor in the British vote earlier this year to break away from the European Union. Those same issues also gave life to Donald Trump’s successful campaign for the Republican presidential nomination.
[lz_table title=”European Concern Over Refugees” source=”Pew Research Center”]Do Refugees Increase Likelihood of Terrorism?
AfD opponents tried put a positive spin on the results, noting that some experts had predicted the nationalist party would do even better on Sunday.
“Of course we’re not happy that they have won seats in parliament,” The Telegraph quoted Sigmar Gabriel, the German vice chancellor and leader of the Social Democrats as saying. “But almost 90 percent of Berliners did not vote for the AfD.”
The left-leaning Social Democrats finished first but also ground, with the party’s share of the Berlin vote falling from 28 percent in 2011 to 23 percent on Sunday. The Telegraph reported that Mayor Michael Müller, who had warned voters that a strong showing by AfD “would be seen around the world as a return of the far Right and the Nazis to Germany,” is expected to form a government with the Greens and the Left Party.
For Merkel, the results of regional elections this year foreshadow possible electoral disaster in next year’s national elections. She has vowed to stay the course on her welcoming policies toward Muslim refugees.
But the chancellor is meeting resistance from her governing partners. Horst Seehofer, prime minister of Bavaria and leader of the Christian Social Union — a coalition partner of Merkel’s Christian Democrats in the Bundestag — demanded last week that the chancellor cap refugees at no more than 200,000 a year.
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If Merkel does not make that concession, Seehofer told Der Spiegel, his party would not help the Christian Democrats in next year’s election or govern with it.
“We will not waive the [demand] for the upper limit … But it is also true that this policy has to change if we want to win trust back,” he told the news organization.