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German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Photo: AP
German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Photo: AP

Angela Merkel faces setback in Berlin vote due to migrant fears

Berlin's governing Social Democrats and Merkel's Christian Democratic Union both declined by some 5 percentage points on Sunday, according to projections

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party and its coalition partner lost support in regional elections in Berlin as the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany siphoned off voters, extending its challenge to Germany’s political establishment.

A year before the next national election, the capital’s governing Social Democrats and Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, the junior partner in the city government, both declined by some 5 percentage points on Sunday to about 23% and 18% respectively, according to projections by broadcasters ARD and ZDF.

Alternative for Germany, or AfD, took about 12%, less than pre-election polls predicted. “It’s not a good day for the traditional parties," Frank Henkel, the CDU’s defeated mayoral candidate, told supporters. For the Christian Democrats, “this result is absolutely unsatisfactory."

Electoral successes by the AfD in a string of state votes are roiling politics in Europe’s biggest economy after last year’s record influx of asylum seekers, dragging down poll ratings for Merkel, her party and the Social Democrats, her junior partner at the national level. While the AfD won almost 21% on 4 September in the rural eastern state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania with its demands for an immigration cap, it fell short of poll predictions of as much as 14% in the more diverse capital of 3.5 million.

After finishing third to the AfD two weeks ago, Merkel’s party was headed for its worst showing in Berlin since 1948 and an exit from the city government. The Social Democrats won the most votes, allowing mayor Michael Mueller to extend the party’s 15-year rule in Germany’s biggest city, possibly together with the Greens and anti-capitalist Left.

The Left, which traces its roots partly to the former East German communists, was the winner among established parties, rising more than four percentage points to about 16 percent, according to the projections. The Greens declined but were on track to remain the third-biggest force in the city. The pro-business Free Democrats took about 6.5 percent, returning to the city council after a five-year absence.

Coalition split

Merkel campaigned last week in Berlin against the AfD, while making it clear that she’s sticking to her course on refugees. “Right now it’s hard to reach some people with reasoning and still we have to keep trying again and again," she said in a local radio interview.

Still, the string of losses has escalated the pressure on Merkel to change course as she weighs running for a fourth term next year. Her sharpest critic within her ruling coalition is the CDU’s Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union. CSU leader Horst Seehofer told Der Spiegel magazine that his party is making an annual migration cap a condition for backing Merkel as joint chancellor candidate. Bloomberg

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