Merkel's party wins key state vote 3 months before national elections

Photo: AO Saxony-Anhalt state governor Reiner Haseloff of Merkel's Christian Democratic Union party, CDU, and his wife Gabriele react after the state election in Magdeburg, 6 June.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives scored a better-than-forecast win in a key state election on Sunday, helping to set the stage for the national ballot in about three months, dpa reported. Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) under Premier Reiner Haseloff in the small eastern German state of Saxony-Anhalt secured 36% of the vote, representing a hefty 6.2% plus since the last election in 2016, according to public television poll projections.

The CDU's win in Saxony-Anhalt represents a boost to Armin Laschet, who has struggled to gain political momentum since he was selected in April to head up the party's September national election campaign as its chancellor candidate.

The September election will also mark the beginning of the post-Merkel era, with the German leader exiting the political stage following the election after 16 years in power.

The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) will remain the second-biggest bloc in the new state parliament after the AfD's vote slipped to 23.1% following a swing against the party of 1.4%. Sunday's result was a "clear message to the outside world" about the role of the far right in German political life, Haseloff told ARD.

But the AfD result again highlights eastern Germany as a bastion of the party's support, with Sunday's vote more than double the party's current standing in national opinion polls. The Saxony-Anhalt result was also significantly higher than the AfD's result in two western state elections held in March, where the party's vote was below 10%.

All other Saxony-Anhalt parties have ruled out working with the AfD, which attempted to make Germany's tough anti-pandemic lockdown measures an election issue.

Sunday's election also represented something of a setback for Laschet's current main challenger to succeed Merkel at the helm of Europe's biggest economy, Green Party chancellor candidate Annalena Baerbock. The Greens posted only a very modest gain from 5.2% in 2016 to 5.9% in Sunday's election, with support for the ecological party in the eastern part of the nation having for a long time trailed behind the western part of the nation.

The Greens may have to make way for the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) in Haseloff's ruling three-party coalition after the FDP bounced back into the regional parliament on Sunday following a 10-year absence. The CDU in Saxony-Anhalt has made little secret of its interest in the FDP joining Haseloff's government for its third term.

Sunday's was also another miserable election day for the centre-left Social Democrats, whose vote slumped to an historic low of 8%.

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