German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats were beaten into third place by the anti-immigrant and anti-Islam Alternative for Germany (AfD) party in a north-eastern state election on Sunday, TV exit polls showed. The election took place exactly a year after Merkel’s decision to open Germany’s borders to hundreds of thousands of refugees and the discontent in the state was palpable.
“This isn’t pretty for us,” said Michael Grosse-Broemer, one of Merkel’s top deputies in parliament in Berlin in a ZDF TV interview. “Those who voted for the AfD were sending a message of protest.”
Merkel’s approval rating has plunged to a five-year low of 45 percent, down from 67 percent a year ago, due to spreading disenchantment with her open-door policies on refugees.
According to a Der Spiegel magazine report, Merkel wanted to announce her intention of running for a fourth term this year but put that on hold due to resistance from her Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union. The arch-conservative CSU has demanded that Merkel put limits on the numbers of refugees.
“This was a dark day for Merkel,” Thomas Jaeger, a political scientist at Cologne University, told Reuters. “Everyone knows that she lost this election. Her district in parliament is there, she campaigned there, and refugees are her issue.”
“This is a slap in the face for Merkel — not only in Berlin but also in her home state,” said Frauke Petry, co-leader of the AfD. “The voters made a clear statement against Merkel’s disastrous immigration policies. This put her in her place.”
The AfD’s win was cheered by the leader of France’s far-right National Front party, Marine Le Pen, who posted on Twitter: “What was impossible yesterday has become possible: the patriots of AfD sweep up the party of Ms Merkel. All my congratulations!”