Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party suffered a major setback in key state polls Sunday over the German leader’s liberal refugee policy, while the right-wing populist AfD scooped up support from angry voters.
Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) lost in two out of three states in regional elections, scoring a historic low in its stronghold Baden-Wuerttemberg where it came in after the Greens, according to estimates published by public broadcasters ARD and ZDF shortly after voting closed at 1700 GMT.
The populist Alternative for Germany (AfD), which had caused a storm by suggesting police may have to shoot at migrants to stop them entering the country, recorded double-digit support in the first elections they have stood for in all three regions.
AfD is projected to garner as much as 21.8 percent of the vote in the eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt — making it the second biggest political force there after the CDU.
The elections, which also included polls in the southwestern region of Rhineland-Palatinate, are the biggest since Germany registered a record influx of refugees, and are largely regarded as a referendum on Merkel’s decision to open the country’s doors to people fleeing war.
With 1.1 million asylum seekers arriving in 2015 alone, Merkel’s policy has polarised the country.
Despite facing intense pressure to change course and shut Germany’s doors, Merkel has resolutely refused to impose a cap on arrivals, insisting instead on common European action that includes distributing refugees among the EU’s 28 member states.
She reiterated her point on Thursday, insisting that imposing a limit on refugee numbers was merely a “short-term pseudo-solution”, and that the only measure that would sustainably bring numbers down was a “concerted European approach”.