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Merkel's refugee policy blamed for defeat

September 5, 2016

Chancellor Angela Merkel received heavy criticism from her opponents as well as from within her own ranks. Her party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), came third place in state elections in her home state.

Deutschland Landtagswahl Mecklenburg-Vorpommern AfD
Image: Reuters/H. Hanschke

AfD beats Merkel party in regional elections

The CDU's Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), blamed the chancellor and her open-door policy on refugees for the shocking result in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. Bavarian finance minister Markus Söder said that receiving fewer than 20 percent of the overall vote in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania should serve as a "wake-up call" with regards to her refugee policy.

Söder told the Monday morning edition of the regional daily newspaper "Nürnberger Nachrichten" that Merkel needed to adopt a hard line on migrants.

"It is no longer possible to ignore people's views on this issue. Berlin needs to change tack," Söder said. Merkel's CDU lost a great number of votes to the newly established "Alternative for Germany" party (AfD), which managed to come second-place in the regional elections in the northeastern state.

The Secretary-General of the CSU, Andreas Scheuer, also joined the ranks of those demanding a tougher stance on refugees. He told the daily newspaper "Berliner Tagesspiegel" that the federal government in Berlin now had to take some tough decision after the devastating result at the polls.

Leif-Erik Holm
AfD candidate Leif-Erik Holm said the election result was a milestone for his partyImage: Reuters/J. Herrmann

"The CSU is pointing in the right direction. We need a cap on refugee numbers, expedited repatriation processes, an expansion of the list of nations deemed to be safe countries of origin, and better integration measures," he said, adding later that that the AfD had seized the opportunity to exploit Merkel's dwindling support.

"We can't simply give in and watch how a party built on attracting protest voters profits from the failures of the federal government in Berlin."

Infografik Landtagswahl Mecklenburg-Vorpommern Englisch

More criticism from within Merkel's own party

Meanwhile, the joint CDU and CSU parliamentary spokesperson on domestic affairs, Stephan Mayer, told the "Huffington Post" that the election results amounted to "a catastrophe" that came as a reaction to Merkel's refugee policy.

"There is actually a lot that the federal government has already done since 2015 in terms of changing its course with regards to its refugee policy, but this news has apparently not reached many eligible voters so far," Mayer said.

In Berlin, CDU federal general secretary Peter Tauber - standing in for Merkel who is currently attending the G20 summit in China - said the result was "bitter" - while stressing that it would not influence the prospect of Merkel contesting a fourth federal term next year.

Mixed results at the polls

There were no winners and losers in absolute terms at the elections in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. However, the vote served as a litmus test on opinions on the government's current policy (especially on refugees) rather than only taking regional issues into account.

AfD beats Merkel party in regional elections

In addition to Merkel's CDU's bad results of only 19 percent of the vote, her federal government coalition partner, the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), also suffered a major setback. While the center-left SPD managed to garner a better-than-forecast 30.6 percent in Sunday's election, it too lost several percents of its voter base to the AfD.

The AfD had targeted Merkel's CDU and her coalition partner, the SPD, since her decision a year ago not to close Germany's border to refugees arriving from war zones such as Syria and Iraq via Hungary and Austria.

Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania as a reflection of German views

Merkel's CDU and its lead candidate Lorenz Caffier, who has governed in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania's capital Schwerin in coalition with the SPD for a decade, had visibly tried to distance himself from Merkel's policies ahead of the vote - publicly campaigning against contentious issues like allowing the wearing of burqas and dual citizenship.

"The federal government must react," Caffier said, stressing that, constitutionally speaking, it was primarily responsible for Germany's borders and the intake of refugees. Caffier meanwhile also rejected calls for him to quit his regional party leadership.

"I think at the moment I have no reason to do so," he said.

Voting booths in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania
Politicians regard the election results in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania as a protest voteImage: picture-alliance/dpa/B. Wüstneck

"We got to witness a new set of circumstances in this election, whereby the positive developments in regional politics did not even begin to factor in with the people. Instead there was only one issue that mattered: refugees - despite the fact that they hardly play a role at all in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania."

Current State Premier Erwin Sellering (SPD) said that the vote should how the public was "deeply worried," adding that refugee issues had played a "great role" in tempting voters to vote for the populist AfD movement. Sellering referred to the election as one of his party's hardest ever campaigns.

Infografics: Afd development

AfD eyes 2017 election

AfD veteran strategist and deputy chairman Alexander Gauland said Sunday's result had great symbolic power ahead of next year's federal election and would add impetus to Berlin city-state's election on September 18, 2016.

Citizens no longer wanted Merkel's policies, Gauland claimed.

Federal Greens co-leader Cem Özdemir meanwhile stressed on Germany's ZDF public television channel that all democratic parties had lost ground on Sunday, warning against simply putting the blame on Merkel.

ss,ipj/jil (dpa, Reuters, AFP)