Saturday 17 February 2018

Merkel vows to win back voters' trust after severe drubbing in state election

Angela Merkel: says decisions over migrant crisis were right. Photo: Reuters
Angela Merkel: says decisions over migrant crisis were right. Photo: Reuters

Geir Moulson

German Chancellor Angela Merkel says that winning back voters' trust will be her priority after a state election in which a nationalist, anti-immigration party beat her party into third place.

Ms Merkel, speaking on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in China, said yesterday that she was "very unhappy" with her Christian Democrats' performance in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, the state where she has her parliamentary constituency.

Ms Merkel's welcome for refugees a year ago was a prominent issue in Sunday's vote, in which the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party finished second.

The chancellor says decisions taken by the government over recent months were right. But she says there's work to do to win back people's confidence, particularly in integrating refugees and in ensuring that migrants who don't qualify for asylum are sent home.

Ms Merkel's centre-left deputy is accusing her conservatives of being too slow to respond to the migrant crisis following the nationalist, anti-immigration AfD's shock second place in the state election.

Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel's Social Democrats won Sunday's election in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. It was the first of five regional votes before a national election expected next September.

The three-year-old AfD drew supporters from across the spectrum to finish second with 20.8pc of votes. The Christian Democrats polled 19pc, their worst result yet in the state.

Ms Merkel has insisted that "we will manage" the crisis.

Mr Gabriel said yesterday that "we have to do it too" and that "we have wasted a great deal of time with unnecessary arguments."

Economically weak Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, in Germany's north-eastern corner, is home to 1.6 million of the country's 80 million people and is a relative political lightweight.

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."

Ms Merkel's refugee policies were a prominent issue in the campaign for the election, which came a year to the day after she decided to let in migrants who were waiting in Hungary to travel to Germany - setting off the peak of last year's influx. Germany registered more than one million people as asylum-seekers last year.

New arrivals have slowed drastically this year, policies have been tightened and Mecklenburg is home to few foreigners.

But 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 the Isil group, have fed tensions.

"This result, and the strong performance of AfD, is bitter for many, for everyone in our party," said Peter Tauber, the general secretary of the Christian Democrats.

Sunday's result could make it more difficult for Mrs Merkel to bury a festering dispute with the Christian Social Union, the Bavarian arm of her conservative bloc, which has long criticised her decision to open the borders and advocated an annual cap on migrants.

Irish Independent

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