By Santiago Losada
The conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU), the party of Chancellor Angela Merkel, suffered a substantial loss in the elections of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, a state in northeastern Germany. The CDU came in third behind the Social Democrats (SPD) and the right-wing populists Alternative for Germany (AFD).
Although the state election will not have a direct impact on the federal government, it does bear symbolic significance. The New York Times reports that the loss shows Merkel facing a strong electoral challenge from the far right, complicating her efforts in forging a united German response to Britain’s vote to leave the European Union.
Mecklenburg-Vorpommern was the state represented by Chancellor Merkel when she was first elected to the Bundestag.
In Germany, the government is usually formed through a coalition of the two largest political parties. Today, the two parties are Merkel’s CDU and the SPD. According to The Guardian, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern has usually followed the federal power structure of a “grand coalition” between SPD and CDU.
Since Merkel opened Germany’s borders to migrants fleeing the Middle East last year, however, her approval ratings have plummeted from 67 percent to a five-year low of 45 percent. Defeats like the one in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern can increase pressure on Chancellor Merkel to limit the number of refugees entering Germany, which she has refused to do, reports The Los Angeles Times.
The state election, which is seen as a trial for the general elections next year, was a referendum on Merkel’s refugee policy. The anti-immigrant and anti-Islam sentiment within the new AFD party has appealed to many who are concerned about the integration of refugees and worried about Germany’s domestic security.
AFD was initially formed as a platform for critics of the European Union and of Germany’s bailout of southern European countries. In the three years since its creation, it has gained a lot of ground, thanks to the refugee crisis. Reuters reports that the party’s alarming growth has allowed it to enter three new state parliaments earlier this year, and that now it has representatives in eight of Germany’s 16 state assemblies.
Many in Germany are concerned that Merkel’s government has accepted too many refugees and that these newcomers will claim jobs and housing that should be available to German citizens. Others fear that refugees will be very costly to taxpayers and that their presence will affect Germany’s culture.
Analysts predict that the CDU may suffer losses in Berlin’s elections next week. Jacqueline Boysen, who wrote a biography on Ms. Merkel, is not worried. “It would be unlike her to leave the party a mess,” Boysen said. “She is very much aware of duty.” Boysen added that despite the uphill election battle that awaits her, Merkel should not be written off just yet because “she has a habit of bouncing back.”