Two states in eastern Germany are set to elect new members of their parliaments on Sunday in an election in which far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party tops the polls.
The votes in Saxony and neighbouring Brandenburg threaten to deliver a new blow to Germany’s traditional big parties, centre-right Christian Democrats (CDU) and Social Democratic Party (SPD), and further destabilise their national coalition government led by Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The AfD is harnessing voter anger over refugees and the planned closure of coal mines in the region. The party cast itself as heirs of the demonstrators who brought about the fall of the Berlin Wall three decades ago.
The anti-immigration party has polled strongly in both states, part of its eastern electoral heartland.
In Brandenburg, which surrounds Berlin, the AfD has been polling at about 21 percent, neck and neck with the governing SPD, the AFP news agency said.
‘Refugees are criminals’
Al Jazeera’s Dominic Kane, reporting from the town of Lubben in Brandenburg, said the AfD’s popularity is pushed by high unemployment and ageing population in several areas in the state.
He also said that although the immigrant and refugee population in Brandenburg is small, the AfD is firm in its “uncompromising message” over the issue.
“We demand criminals – so-called ‘refugees’ – who can be deported, must first be imprisoned … One thing is clear, integration means you adapt to the country, it does not mean the country adapts to you,” said Andreas Kalbitz, a leading AfD candidate from Brandenburg, in recent remarks.
Brandenburg’s SPD state premier Dietmar Woidke has voiced hope that the vote winner will not be “a party that stands for exclusion, hatred and agitation”.
“Our state still needs reliability, cohesion and strong leadership. I stand for that. Let’s work together to make sure our land stays in good hands in the future,” he said.
In Saxony, home to the city of Dresden, the AfD has slipped back somewhat to poll at 25 percent, behind the 29 percent for Merkel’s CDU, AFP said.
The AfD, formed six years ago as a eurosceptic group, now focuses mainly on fear and anger over Germany’s mass migrant and refugee influx since 2015.
It already has seats in all 16 German state assemblies and the national and European parliaments.
Eastern Germany is home to several of the AfD’s most hardliner leaders, among them Bjoern Hoecke, who has labelled Berlin’s Holocaust memorial a “monument of shame”, and his close ally Kalbitz.
Effect on national politics
Sunday’s election results could reverberate across German politics.
For Merkel, an election debacle for either her CDU or junior coalition partner, the SPD, would pose another threat to their uneasy coalition.
The veteran leader has already pledged to step down when her current term ends in 2021, but regional election upsets could speed up her government’s demise.
Poor results for the SPD, already demoralised by a string of election defeats, would boost internal critics, who want the party to leave Merkel’s government quickly.
Many SPD members want to quit an alliance that has kept Merkel in power for 10 of the last 14 years and rebuild in opposition.
The parties are due to review the coalition, weakened by rows over migrant policy, tax and pensions, by the end of the year.
A collapse of the coalition could trigger a snap election or result in a minority government in Germany.
SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies