Last Thursday, when previewing the outcome of Sunday’s Berlin election, we said that “Merkel Braces For More Misery With Humiliating Berlin Election Rout.” And, as Reuters, observes, that is precisely what happened after Angela Merkel’s conservatives suffered their second electoral blow in two weeks on Sunday, with support for her Christian Democrats (CDU) plunging to a post-reunification low in a Berlin state vote due to unease with her migrant policy.
In the final count, according to Deutsche Welle, Merkel’s CDU finished second with only 17.6% and the Left Party came in third with 15.7% of the vote, marking a 4 percent gain from the 2011. The CDU dropped 5.7 percent, marking its worst performance in the capital since German reunification, public broadcaster ARD reported. The Social Democratic Party picked up 21.5% of the vote in Berlin’s state election. But the biggest winner agai was the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany party, which won 14.1% of the vote – more than initial exit polls revealed and even beating surprisingly high polls in the days ahead of the election, which saw it winning 14% of the vote – and entered its 10th regional assembly. As a reminder, the AfD has only been around for three years, and is already breathing down the neck of such established German political scions as the CDU.
The reason for the AfD surge was the wide turnout, which at 66.4%, was 15% more than at the last election in 2011, as angry locals turned out to cast a protest vote following a heated campaign marked by what was by standards of German political discourse, unusually harsh rhetoric.
Overal,, as ARD tabulated, the center-left SPD remains the biggest party with 21.6 percent of the vote, followed by Angela Merkel’s CDU with 17.6%, the left-wing Linke party with 15.7%, and the Greens at 15.2%. The Pirate Party, which won over 7% five years ago, was decimated, to less than 2%.
— Tagesspiegel Wahl (@tspwahl) September 18, 2016
With the top two parties losing more than 5 percent of the vote each, the existing grand coalition between the two centrist mainstays of Germany’s political system – which is currently in power at the national level – is no longer possible.
“There is no question. We didn’t get a good result in Berlin today,” admitted Michael Grosse-Broemer, a senior CDU politician, who nonetheless cautioned interpreting the capital results as a bellwether for next year’s countrywide polls. The AfD earlier proclaimed that the result augured the end of the stranglehold of long-established centrist parties on the country’s political levers of power.
“It’s not a good day for the traditional parties,” Frank Henkel, the CDU’s defeated mayoral candidate, told supporters. For the Christian Democrats, “this result is absolutely unsatisfactory.”
The blow to the CDU came two weeks after the party suffered heavy losses in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Merkel’s home state. The setbacks have raised questions about whether Merkel will stand for a fourth term next year, but her party has few good alternatives so she still looks like the most likely candidate.
As Bloomberg adds, electoral successes by the AfD in a string of state votes are roiling politics in Europe’s biggest economy after last year’s record influx of asylum seekers, dragging down poll ratings for Merkel, her party and the Social Democrats, her junior partner at the national level. While the AfD won almost 21 percent on Sept. 4 in the rural eastern state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania with its demands for an immigration cap, it fell short of poll predictions of as much as 14 percent in in the more diverse capital of 3.5 million.
Merkel campaigned last week in Berlin against the AfD, while making it clear that she’s sticking to her course on refugees. “Right now it’s hard to reach some people with reasoning and still we have to keep trying again and again,” she said in a local radio interview. Still, the string of losses has escalated the pressure on Merkel to change course as she weighs running for a fourth term next year. Her sharpest critic within her ruling coalition is the CDU’s Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union. CSU leader Horst Seehofer told Der Spiegel magazine that his party is making an annual migration cap a condition for backing Merkel as joint chancellor candidate.
* * *
And so the startling fall from grace for the woman who until recently was perceived as the most powerful in all of Europe, continues; and with every successive loss in German elections, it looks increasingly likely that the Chancellor, who did everything to preserve Europe during the Greek crisis days, may have been sabotaged by her own immigration policies.