14 Mar 2016

Merkel's party suffers state election setbacks

1:46 pm on 14 March 2016

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's party has suffered significant losses in German regional elections with defeats in two of three states, exit polls show.

German chancellor Angela Merkel delivers a speech at the last electoral meeting in Haigerloch, southwestern Germany, ahead of regional state elections.

German chancellor Angela Merkel delivers a speech at the last electoral meeting in Haigerloch, southwestern Germany, ahead of regional state elections. Photo: AFP

The elections have been seen as a test of Mrs Merkel's refugee policy. More than one million migrants and refugees entered the country in 2015.

The polls indicate Mrs Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party lost support in Baden-Wuerttemberg and Rhineland Palatinate, but remained the largest party in Saxony-Anhalt.

The anti-migrant Alternative for Germany party (AfD) achieved gains in all three states.

In the western state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, a former stronghold of the CDU, support for the party reached a historic low of about 27 percent, the exit polls suggest.

The Green-led coalition currently in power won the election.

In Saxony-Anhalt, a poor, eastern state where the CDU and the Social Democrats govern together, that coalition looked set to remain in office, but the exit polls showed AfD won about 22 percent of the vote.

The Social Democrats were set to maintain their hold on Rhineland-Palatinate, a state the CDU had hoped to capture.

'Real opposition'

Already represented in five of Germany's 16 regional parliaments, the AfD had campaigned on slogans such as "Secure the borders" and "Stop the asylum chaos".

German Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel said on Saturday that gains for the AfD would not change his government's stance on immigration.

"There is a clear position that we stand by - humanity and solidarity. We will not change our position now," he said.

But in Berlin on Saturday, about 2000 right-wing demonstrators carrying German flags chanted "Merkel must go!" and "We are the people!".

The CDU's poor results could put additional pressure on Mrs Merkel, just as she was trying to push through an EU deal with Turkey to reduce the numbers of migrants and refugees entering western Europe.

As Europe's largest economy, Germany had a leading role in policy-making for the European Union.

At a summit earlier this week, the chancellor promoted a last-minute draft of the deal and demanded the support of other European leaders.

The meetings and demonstrations came as thousands of migrants had massed in muddy camps in the Greek border town of Idomeni after countries across the Balkans closed their borders.