Germany polls: Merkel’s party braces for a backlash over influx of refugees

More than 12 million voters are electing three new regional parliaments for the southwestern states of Baden-Wuerttemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate, as well as eastern Saxony-Anhalt in the so-called Super Sunday polls.

By: AFP | Berlin | Published: March 13, 2016 10:54 am
Members of LEGIDA, the Leipzig arm of the anti-Islam movement Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West (PEGIDA), take part in a rally in Leipzig, Germany January 11, 2016. (REUTERS) Members of LEGIDA, the Leipzig arm of the anti-Islam movement Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West (PEGIDA), take part in a rally in Leipzig, Germany January 11, 2016. (REUTERS)

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party braced for a backlash at key state polls Sunday over the German leader’s liberal refugee policy, while the right-wing populist AfD prepared to scoop up the protest vote from angry voters.

More than 12 million voters are electing three new regional parliaments for the southwestern states of Baden-Wuerttemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate, as well as eastern Saxony-Anhalt in the so-called Super Sunday polls.

The elections are the biggest since a record influx of refugees to Germany, and are largely billed as a referendum on Merkel’s decision to open the country’s doors to people fleeing war.

“These elections are very important… as they will serve as a litmus test for the government’s disputed policy” on refugees, Duesseldorf University political scientist Jens Walther told AFP ahead of the polls.

Surveys in the run-up to the vote show that support for the CDU and its junior coalition partner Social Democratic Party (SPD) dropping while the populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) was steadily gaining momentum and expected to record a surge in backing in all three states.

Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) was bracing for one of its poorest showings in years, particularly in its traditional stronghold of Baden-Wuerttemberg, with a poll published late Thursday by ZDF public television showing support plummeting by 10 percentage points to 29 percent — putting it for the first time behind the Greens — while the AfD snatched 11 percent.

Guido Wolf, the CDU’s leading candidate in the southwest, has described Sunday’s as the “most difficult election campaign” the party has had to run.

In Rhineland-Palatinate, where the fortunes of the CDU had been rising with the latest poll giving it 35 percent, the party is seen struggling to knock the Social Democratic Party, scoring 36 percent, off from the top of the list. The AfD meanwhile was hoping to crack the 10 percent mark.

In Saxony-Anhalt, where the CDU still commands a large lead in the poll with 32 percent, AfD has a stunning 18 percent, at the heels of the second-placed Left Party, on 21 percent.

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