Germany’s centre right has fended off a challenge by the far right in the last regional test before national polls in September, an exit poll suggests.
The Christian Democrats (CDU) of Chancellor Angela Merkel won 36% of the vote in the state election in Saxony-Anhalt, a former part of East Germany.
It did much better than opinion polls had predicted.
The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) took 22.5% after nearly equalling the CDU in the opinion polls.
Mrs Merkel has dominated German politics as chancellor since 2005, leading an uneasy coalition with the CDU’s old leftwing political foe, the Social Democrats (SDP), after the last election in 2017.
A centrist figure, Armin Laschet, has been picked to succeed her as the CDU’s leader in the September election.
How did the parties do in Sunday’s election?
The CDU has dominated Saxony-Anhalt since reunification in 1990 and its current Premier Reiner Haseloff looks set to return to power at the head of a coalition.
Even if they had won the largest share of the vote, the anti-immigrant AfD would not have been able to govern as the smaller parties had ruled out any deal involving it.
According to the exit polls:
- Die Linke, rooted in the old East German state Communist party, came third with 11%
- The SPD won 8.5%
- The Greens won 6.5%
- The liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) won 6.5%
Four uncertain months
Angela Merkel’s supporters cheered in Saxony-Anhalt as the results came in. They have overcome a significant challenge from the AfD. And there will be relief in Berlin too.
This is the last regional election before Germany goes to the ballot box in September. Mrs Merkel is standing down and Armin Laschet has struggled to reinvigorate dwindling public support for the CDU.
Its main challenge at the national level comes from the Green Party. Mr Laschet will no doubt be relieved that the Greens did not make significant gains in Saxony-Anhalt.
But the celebrations may be short-lived. Many analysts believe the CDU’s regional victory is simply down to a popular local leader. And with four months to the general election it’s still by no means guaranteed that Angela Merkel’s party will hold on to the keys to the chancellery.
- The eighth largest of Germany’s 16 states, it is about the size of Slovenia and has a population of 2.2 million
- Magdeburg is the state capital but the biggest city is Halle
- The population has shrunk by more than half a million since German reunification in 1990
- One of the poorest states after reunification, today it has a diverse industrial sector including automotive supply production, mechanical engineering, information technology, biotechnology and medical technology
- The state has one of Germany’s highest concentrations of Unesco World Heritage Sites
How are the parties doing nationally?
When Germany elects a new federal parliament on 26 September, the results could be as ground-breaking as they were in 2017, but for different reasons.
If 2017 was the year the far right entered parliament, 2021 looks set to be the year the Greens challenge the centre right for the biggest share of the vote.
- The CDU and its Bavarian allies, the Christian Social Union, will win 25%, a drop of about eight percentage points on the last election in 2017
- The Greens will surge from just under 9% to 23%
- The SPD will shrink from just over to 20% to 15%
- The FDP will continue its comeback, from 10.7% in 2017 to 13% this year
- The AfD will fall back slightly from 12.6% to 11%
Up to 2017, German governments had alternated between coalitions led by either the CDU/CSU or the SPD, with the FDP or the Greens the junior partner.
But the SPD’s claim to be a party of government has been steadily eroded just as the fortunes of the Greens rise.