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'Nightmare for the CDU'

Mark HallamMarch 14, 2016

Here in Germany, reporters called it a "black election Sunday," with one commentator smelling a "whiff of Weimar" in the AfD's successes. But what did the international press have to say about Sunday's state elections?

Deutschland Landtagswahl Baden-Württemberg AfD Wahlparty
Image: Getty Images/A. Hassenstein

Spanish daily El Pais described Sunday's election results as a "political earthquake" in Germany, "which has an influence on numerous parties." El Pais singled out the Social Democrats, in particular, calling it an "enormous humiliation" for Germany's second party to slide towards just 10 percent of the vote in Saxony-Anhalt in the east and Baden-Württemberg in the southwest.

Many international outlets focused, however, on the losses incurred by Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats. Le Figaro's Berlin correspondent Nicolas Barotte described the results as a "nightmare" for the CDU and party leader Merkel. "One sole topic dominated the campaign," Barotte wrote, "the refugee crisis." Discussing the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) and its huge hauls in all three states, he concluded: "This populist party's anti-immigration, anti-establishment campaign worked."

Deutschland Landtagswahl 2016 Frauke Petry AfD
AfD leader Frauke Petry's populist campaign platform 'worked,' according to Le FigaroImage: Getty Images/AFP/J. Macdougall

Similarly, British paper The Times said that Merkel "was given a bloody nose by voters" flocking to the right-wing, euroskeptic AfD "in a backlash against her generous refugee policy during its first test at the ballot box."

The Daily Mail found yet clearer terms with which to describe the outcome, calling it the electorate's "crushing verdict on open-door migration." Political correspondent Jack Doyle wrote that the AfD had "surged in popularity following Mrs Merkel's decision to roll out the red carpet for more than a million migrants."

The Guardian's correspondent, Philip Oltermann, noted that Frauke Petry's "right-wing upstarts appeared to have benefited from an increased voter turnout across the country," explaining how the AfD won more support from first-time voters than it did from disillusioned Christian Democrats. In France, Le Monde spotted the same trend, writing that "yesterday's non-voters have become today's AfD voters."

Infografik Landtagswahl Sachsen-Anhalt Englisch
Increased voter turnout helped explain the AfD's strong showing, most notably in the eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt

'Scrambling politics' in Germany

The Wall Street Journal's story noted how the AfD's 24-percent haul in Saxony-Anhalt comfortably exceeded pollsters' predictions, with Anton Troianovski positing that "the migration crisis is scrambling politics in Europe's largest economy."

"The results laid bare the extent to which the migration crisis has polarized German society," Troianovski wrote. "Left-of-center proponents of a welcoming refugee policy also recorded wins Sunday, even as Ms. Merkel's conservatives suffered," pointing to the successes of Winfried Kretschmann, the Greens' charismatic state premier in Baden-Württemberg, and Social Democrat Malu Dreyer in Rhineland-Palatinate.

The Associated Press in the US also picked up on this, asking whether CDU criticism of Merkel's refugee stance - for instance from Julia Klöckner in Rhineland-Palatinate - "may simply have created the impression of disunity" among the conservatives.

Deutschland Nachgeholter Rosenmontagszug Düsseldorf
Some papers asked whether the CDU and CSU's own infighting (satirized here at a Carnival procession) contributed to the resultsImage: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Skolimowska

"Center-left incumbents Kretschmann and Dreyer often sounded more enthusiastic about Merkel's refugee policy than their Conservative challengers," AP's Geir Moulson noted.

'A double no-confidence vote'

Swiss daily Blick told its German-speaking readers that "Germany is torn," calling the ballots a twin vote of no-confidence - both in terms of refugee policy and grand coalition government more generally. It noted how the historic fear of the CDU and especially its Bavarian CSU sister party had come to pass - that a party had established itself to the right of Germany's conservatives.

"For the first time, in the shape of the AfD, a party to the right of the Union has won a lasting foothold, and now sits in eight out of 16 state parliaments. In Saxony-Anhalt the party achieved a real first: it claimed more than 20 percent of the vote and became the second largest power," Blick's Iris Mayer wrote.

The Neue Zürcher Zeitung similarly saw a "warning shot towards Berlin" and next year's federal elections in Sunday's results, calling them a "clear signal of [voter] dissatisfaction." The paper says the established parties have two political responses open to them: either to recognize "that the majority of the voters for the fast-climbers [the AfD] are not merely a bunch of grubby racists, extremists and simpletons, who are best ignored" or, alternatively, to launch into "an indignant outcry in the media and politics about the threat from the 'right-wing-populist' AfD." The second scenario, Peter Rasonyi writes, seems the most likely reaction, "but it's not too late to reconsider."