German leader’s party suffers Berlin election setback

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Fresh defeat for Chancellor Angela Merkel as far-right AfD makes huge gains in Berlin’s state parliament elections

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party suffered a setback Sunday in Berlin state parliament elections as the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) made big gains amid tension caused by the refugee crisis.

Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) — which together with the Social Democrats (SPD) has ruled the state since 2011 — lost about 5.5 percent of its vote share, bringing it down to 17.9 percent according to initial projections by public broadcaster ARD.

It was the worst election result for the Christian Democrats yet in the German capital, which is also one of the country’s 16 states.

The SPD also lost 5.1 percent but remained the biggest party in the state, securing 23.2 percent of the vote.

After the CDU’s heavy losses, the current coalition government lost its majority in Berlin’s state parliament, making a three-party coalition led by the SPD together with the Greens and Left Party (Die Linke) the most likely scenario.

The AfD managed to win 11.7 percent of the vote in its first election in the German capital, reflecting an upward trend nationwide. The party was founded just three years ago as a protest movement.

It has so far won seats in 10 of Germany’s 16 state parliaments on an anti-immigration and anti-Islam platform.

Earlier this month, the AfD defeated Merkel’s CDU in the eastern state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, managing to win 20.8 percent of the vote and pushing the Christian Democrats into third place.

Recent polls show national AfD support exceeding 10 percent and the party is likely to enter the federal parliament in a general election next year.

Sunday’s election in Berlin was widely seen as a test of support for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s refugee policy.

The German chancellor has so far turned down calls for closing doors to refugees who flee civil war and conflicts, and has argued that refugee numbers can only be decreased through EU-Turkey cooperation and EU states sharing the burden.

Germany has witnessed growing anti-refugee and anti-Muslim sentiment in recent years, triggered by propaganda from far-right and populist parties which have exploited the crisis plus fears of religious extremism and terrorist groups.

Europe’s largest economy accepted more than one million refugees last year; most of these were Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans.

 

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