Merkel’s party fends off far-right challenge in state vote

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives fought off a challenge from far right in a state election Sunday that was seen as the last big test for Germany’s political parties before a national vote in September

Projections by public broadcaster ARD put Merkel’s center-right Christian Democratic Union at 36.2%, a gain of more than 6 percentage points compared to the last election five years ago in the sparsely populated state of 2.2 million inhabitants.

The far-right Alternative for Germany, or AfD, was projected to get 22.5% of the vote, a slight drop compared to 2016. The party has moved steadily further to the right in recent years and its chapter in Saxony-Anhalt has come under increased scrutiny from Germany’s domestic intelligence service for its ties to extremist groups.

While elections in Germany’s 16 states are often influenced by local issues and voting sentiments, they are also seen as important bellwethers for the national mood. A strong win for the CDU would be seen as a sign that the party’s new leader, Armin Laschet, can hope for support from both conservatives and centrists on Sept. 26, when it aims to hold onto power at the federal level despite four-term chancellor Merkel not running again.

The election result, if projections based on partial counts are confirmed, would be a strong endorsement for incumbent governor Reiner Haseloff of the CDU, who now has the comfort of being able to pick from three possible coalitions with smaller parties.

The 67-year-old Haseloff, whose popularity in the state was a strong pull for voters, ruled out any cooperation with AfD or the ex-communist Left party, who were projected to get 10.9% of the vote — a record low in the state.

The center-left Social Democrats also fared worse than five years ago and were expected to get about 8.4%, while the environmentalist Greens made modest gains to take 6.2% Projections also showed that the pro-business Free Democrats entered the state assembly again after missing out five years ago, receiving 6.5%.

Haseloff expressed relief that voters backed centrist parties at the expense of the political fringes, saying the outcome showed a “big, big majority had made a democratic choice and drawn a clear demarcation line to the right.”

AfD campaigned strongly against pandemic restrictions, and its election posters urged voters to demonstrate their “resistance” at the ballot box.

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