Germany’s anti-migrant populists made a strong showing at Sunday’s state polls, scoring ahead of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party as voters punished the German leader over her liberal refugee policy.
The xenophobic Alternative for Germany (AfD) clinched around 21 percent in its first bid for seats in the regional parliament of Mecklenburg-Western Vorpommern, results showed after most ballots were counted.
Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union garnered just 19 perecent percent in its worst ever score in the north-eastern state, while the Social Democrats maintained top place with around 30 percent.
AfD’s lead candidate Leif-Erik Holm called it a “proud result for a young party” as the populists secured seats on the opposition benches of the ninth out of 16 regional parliaments with Sunday’s showing.
“The icing on the cake is that we have left Merkel’s CDU behind us… maybe that is the beginning of the end of Merkel’s time as chancellor,” he said.
Although the former Communist state is Germany’s poorest and least populous, it carries a symbolic meaning as it is home to Merkel’s constituency Stralsund.
Together with Berlin’s elections in two weeks, Sunday’s polls are also a key test ahead of general elections next year, when Merkel’s decision exactly a year ago to let in tens of thousands of Syrian and other migrants is expected to be a key point of contention.
Although she won praise at first, the optimism has given way to fears over how Europe’s biggest economy will manage to integrate the million people who arrived last year alone.
Merkel’s decision has left her increasingly isolated in Europe, and exposed her to heavy criticism at home, including from her own conservative allies.
The CDU’s general secretary Peter Tauber said Sunday’s results were “bitter”, acknowledging that voters “wanted to send a signal of protest, as we had noticed in discussions about refugees”.