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13 Mar, 2016 17:45

Anti-immigrant AfD makes huge gains in votes, Merkel suffers losses – early figures

Exit polls and preliminary results in German regional elections show significant success for the right-wing AfD party, which will probably enter three state legislatures. Chancellor Merkel’s conservative CDU party suffered losses in two out of three states.

The AfD (Alternative for Germany) party secured 24.2 percent in the eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt, making it the second-largest party after the ruling CDU (Christian Democratic Union of Germany), which won 30 percent, according to exit polls and early counting.

The AfD (Alternative for Germany) party secured 24.2 percent in the eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt, making it the second-largest party after the ruling CDU (Christian Democratic Union of Germany), which won 30 percent, according to exit polls and early counting.

Official results from Baden-Württemberg show AfD managed to win 15.1 percent of the ballots to come in third, after the state’s ruling Green Party with the most votes, and CDU, which took second place.

Results for Rhineland Palatinate also put AfD in the third place, while CDU lost its majority to Social-Democrats, securing only 32 percent against their 36. 

Voting booths in all three states closed at 6 pm (17:00 GMT) on Sunday. Over 12 million Germans were eligible to vote in the regional parliamentary elections.

The results amounted to a resounding success for right-wing AfD, a party which didn’t even exist some three years ago, created in 2013 as an anti-euro movement, while Chancellor Merkel’s conservatives lost in two out of three regional state elections.

We have fundamental problems in Germany that led to this election result. In the months to come we’ll show that the AfD needs to be here, that Germany needs a new alternative – and that’s us,” said AfD chief Frauke Petry, whose party is now to enter all three regional parliaments.

She also said that her party does not focus merely on migration policies, explaining “We push forward a number of ideas: for family policies, for energy policies, for example. Also, to make our tax system more transparent, which has been tried several times by the CDU, but never happened. But in terms of currency policies, we think that a referendum about the euro is more than necessary. And yes, we should also talk about migration policy, because that is something that is capable to change the country on the whole, and people in Germany haven’t had a chance to discuss this on a broad public level.

The party’s Berlin chairman, Georg Pazderski, spoke of the tasks ahead. “The results come with responsibility. There is a lot to do for us. There is a deep feeling in the German population that something is going wrong. It’s not only because of the migration crisis, it’s also because of the euro crisis and other things. People see that politics in Germany is going the wrong way and this is the main reason why we have such good results today,” he said.

Alexander Gauland, Deputy Head of the AfD, also commented on the election results, saying, “We are the opposition, which is being driven away by everyone. We have a quite clear stance regarding the migration policy: we do not want any more refugees. People who have chosen us are against [the current] migration policy.

AfD was created in 2013 to oppose German federal policies concerning the eurozone crisis. Originally considered a right-wing fringe group, the party has been gaining in popularity since the migrant crisis hit the EU a year ago. As of 2015, the AfD had gained representation in five German state parliaments. Its core constituents today are voters disillusioned with the stance of Chancellor Merkel’s government on refugees. AfD’s leader, Frauke Petry, has been taken to task for her harsh stance on migration since she suggested earlier this year that police should fire at refugees to prevent them from entering the country “as a last resort.

AfD’s co-chairman, Katja Kipping, stated, “Current election results are the expression of [German] society turning to the right and separation within the society itself. The ‘grand coalition’ [Merkel’s party] is responsible for it, having strengthened the feeling of social insecurity with its policy.”

Meanwhile, despite the party's success in elections, protests were held late on Sunday in Cologne and Stuttgart, with activists denouncing the anti-refugee AfD with banners calling the party “arsonists” and reading “you are no alternative.”

In a dig at Chancellor Merkel’s open-door migration policy, the AfD campaigned under slogans like “Secure the borders” and “Stop the asylum chaos” on their way to winning representation in five of Germany’s 16 regional parliaments.

The mass assaults in the German city of Cologne on New Year’s Eve, when groups of men reportedly of North African and Middle East origin sexually harassed and robbed about 1,000 women, resulted in a wave of criticism across the country directed at Merkel’s government, with people demanding not only punishment for assailants, but also stricter border controls.

According to a  conducted in early February, 81 percent of Germans feel that the migrant crisis is “out of control” under Merkel’s rule, and the majority wants more restrictive measures for asylum seekers.

Today’s election was widely seen as the biggest electoral challenge for Chancellor Merkel ahead of next year’s general election and a test of support for her open door migrant policy.

Her party’s poor results in the regional polls could come as a setback for the Chancellor as she tries to muster all of her political clout to seal a much-debated EU deal to send migrants back to Turkey in exchange for more funding and visa-free travel.

This year’s turnout in all three states greatly exceeded that for the previous elections in 2011, being up by over 5 percent in Baden-Wuerttemberg, 9.7 percent in Rhineland-Palatinate, and 11.8 percent in Saxony-Anhalt.