Voting began on Sunday in the German state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, where polls project the anti-immigrant Alternative for Deutschland (AfD) party will make huge gains amid growing discontent with Chancellor Angela Merkel and her open-door refugee policy.
The election, taking place exactly a year after Merkel’s decision to open Germany’s borders to hundreds of thousands of refugees, will be followed by another key vote in Berlin in two weeks and national elections next September.
Voters already punished Merkel in three state elections in March, voting in droves for the AfD and rejecting Merkel’s Christian Democrats.
Mecklenburg-Vorpommern is a small coastal state in northeastern Germany with just 1.3 million eligible voters, but losses there would be humiliating for Merkel, who has her own electoral district in the state.
The AfD, founded two years after the last election in the state, is expected to capture 22 percent of the vote, the same as Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), junior partner in the state’s ruling coalition, according to a poll by broadcaster ZDF.
The Social Democrats, senior partners in the state’s ruling coalition, are expected to win 28 percent of the vote, compared with 35.6 percent in the last state-wide election in 2011.
The AfD is also making gains nationwide, a new poll showed Sunday. If the national election were held next week, The AfD would win 12 percent of the vote, making it the third-largest party in Germany, according to a poll conducted by the Emnid institute for the Bild newspaper and published on Sunday.
That would catapult the party into the German parliament for the first time since its creation in 2013.
Merkel, mulling a bid for a fourth term as chancellor, made a last-minute campaign appearance on Saturday in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, warning against the politics of “angst” offered by AfD with its virulent anti-refugee stance.
“Every vote counts,” she said. “This election is about the future of this state.” She urged voters to look beyond divisive campaign slogans and consider the policies of the current coalition that had halved unemployment and pumped up tourism in the northeastern coastal state.
In an interview in the mass-circulation Bild newspaper, Merkel defended her decision to welcome so many migrants fleeing conflict in the Middle East, and denied the influx had cut funding for the German public.
Merkel’s approval ratings have sunk to a five-year low of 45 percent over the past year, but the chancellor said she would act no differently if faced with the same situation today.
Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere, a fellow Christian Democrat, rejected criticism from some in the CDU’s Christian Social Union (CSU) sister party that Merkel’s refugee policy was responsible for the rise of the AfD party.
The Emnid poll said 63 percent of Germans believed that too.
“I consider that preposterous,” he told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper. “The refugee crisis is not the reason that far-right populist parties are now making gains here. That has more to do with the anxiety that some have about globalization and modernity.”
Share or comment on this article