Thursday 22 February 2018

Three German states vote in elections marked by migrant crisis

Refugees fills looking for employment and training possibilities at a jobs fair in Berlin Credit: Carsten Koall (Getty Images)
Refugees fills looking for employment and training possibilities at a jobs fair in Berlin Credit: Carsten Koall (Getty Images)
Migrants and refugees arriving from Austria wait to be registered at a processing center in Passau, Germany.

Three German states are going to the polls in the first significant political test since the country saw a massive influx of migrants.

A nationalist party is expected to perform strongly amid unease over Chancellor Angela Merkel's liberal approach to Europe's migration crisis.

Angela Merkel
Angela Merkel

Some 12.7 million people are eligible to vote for state legislatures in three diverse regions: Baden-Wuerttemberg in the south-west, an economic powerhouse; neighbouring Rhineland-Palatinate; and relatively poor Saxony-Anhalt in the ex-communist east.

Polls suggest the results will be uncomfortable for both Mrs Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union party and her partners in the national government, the centre-left Social Democrats.

They predict the three-year-old Alternative for Germany party, or AfD, which has campaigned against Mrs Merkel's migrant policy, will easily enter all three state legislatures, winning as much as 19% of the vote in Saxony-Anhalt. Other parties will not give it a share of power in coalition governments, but its presence could complicate their coalition-building efforts.

Germany registered nearly 1.1 million people as asylum-seekers last year as Mrs Merkel insisted "we will manage" the challenge. While her government has moved to tighten asylum rules, she still insists on a pan-European solution to the migrant crisis, ignoring demands from some conservative allies for a national cap on the number of refugees.

Read more: Judge claims toddlers can be 'taught enough immigration law' to defend themselves in court

For "all those who want a constructive solution, who want to move things ahead, AfD is completely the wrong party," the chancellor says.

Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, the Social Democrats' leader, on Saturday called for a big turnout in the vote and predicted that a large majority of voters will choose "democratic parties".

"There is a clear position that we stand by: humanity and solidarity," he said. "We will not change our position now because of 10% of right-wing radicals."

Mrs Merkel's party leads Saxony-Anhalt's government. It hopes to oust centre-left governors in the other two states, but its chances of doing so appear to have dimmed.

Mrs Merkel's CDU ran Baden-Wuerttemberg for decades until 2011, when it finished first but lost power to a Green-led coalition.

This time, polls suggest it could be beaten to first place by the left-leaning Greens, who are benefiting from the popularity of the state governor, Winfried Kretschmann. Many prefer Mr Kretschmann, who has a more conservative image than many Greens, to little-known CDU challenger Guido Wolf.

In Rhineland-Palatinate, the CDU's Julia Kloeckner hopes to end the Social Democrats' 25 years in charge, but the parties are now neck and neck.

Germany's next national election is due in late 2017. While a poor result on Sunday will likely generate new tensions, Mrs Merkel's position appears secure: she has put many state-level setbacks behind her in the past, and there's no long-term successor or figurehead for any rebellion in sight.

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