Merkel’s party suffers big loss in Berlin polls
GERMAN Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party suffered a historic loss in Berlin state elections while the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) gained fresh support, riding a wave of popular anger over her open-door refugee policy.
According to public broadcasters’ projections, the anti-Islam AfD party won around 14 percent in the capital which has long prided itself on being a hip, diverse and multicultural city.
The strong AfD result, thanks to support especially in the vast tower block districts in Berlin’s former communist east, meant it has now won opposition seats in 10 of 16 states one year ahead of national elections.
Ms Merkel’s centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) won only 17.5pc – its worst postwar result in the city, before or after the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall – likely spelling the end of its term as junior coalition partner to the Social Democrats (SPD), who won around 22pc.
The election in the chronically indebted city-state of 3.5 million people was dominated by local issues, including poor public services, crumbling school buildings, late trains and a housing shortage, as well as problems in coping with the migrant influx.
The biggest EU economy took in 1 million asylum seekers last year, and over 70,000 of them came to Berlin, with thousands still housed in the cavernous hangars of the Nazi-built former Tempelhof airport, once the hub for the Cold War-era Berlin airlift.
Berlin’s SPD Mayor Michael Mueller had dramatically warned before the polls that a strong AfD result would be “seen throughout the world as a sign of the resurgence of the right and of Nazis in Germany”.
The vote marked another milestone for the upstart AfD, which has campaigned on a xenophobic platform similar to France’s National Front or far-right populists in Austria and the Netherlands.
“From zero to double-digits, that’s a first for Berlin,” cheered the AfD’s top Berlin candidate, Georg Pazderski, predicting that the electorate would next year kick out Ms Merkel’s national right-left grand coalition.
“We’ve arrived in the capital,” said the party’s co-leader Beatrix von Storch, hailing the “huge success”.
Ms Merkel’s CDU, which has a national majority, in Berlin has served as junior coalition partner to Mr Mueller’s SPD, traditionally the strongest party in the city .
Mr Mueller has rejected a new coalition with the CDU and was seen likely to team up with the ecologist Greens and the far-left Die Linke party, each of whom scored around 15pc.
Such a “red-red-green” coalition, its members hope, could one day be replicated at the national level.
Ms Merkel, meanwhile, after suffering a stinging loss to the AfD in another regional poll two weeks ago, will face further pressure “to explain her political strategy”, Gero Neugebauer of Berlin’s Free University told the Handelsblatt business daily.
Another analyst, Kai Arzheimer of Mainz University, also predicted tensions would rise between the CDU and its Bavarian sister party the CSU, but he stressed the alliance was unlikely to change its top candidate Ms Merkel. –
Christian Democratic Union candidate Frank Henkel (centre) speaks after Berlin’s state elections on September 18.