Merkel faces threat of populist gains in Berlin polls

Christian Democratic Union candidate Frank Henkel casting his vote in Berlin yesterday. With him are his common law wife Kathrin Bernikas and son Leopold. Latest polls predict heavy losses for the Christian Democrats.
Christian Democratic Union candidate Frank Henkel casting his vote in Berlin yesterday. With him are his common law wife Kathrin Bernikas and son Leopold. Latest polls predict heavy losses for the Christian Democrats.PHOTO: REUTERS

BERLIN • Voters in the German capital flocked to the ballot box yesterday for city elections in which Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives look set to suffer their second electoral blow in two weeks as voters express unease with her refugee-friendly policy.

The anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany party is expected to profit from a popular backlash over Dr Merkel's decision a year ago to keep borders open for refugees. The party is poised to enter its 10th regional assembly out of Germany's 16 states.

Voting in the German capital started at 8am yesterday and about 2.5 million people are eligible to decide who will represent them in the Berlin city assembly.

Queues formed in front of many polling stations, with the sunny weather helping to boost turnout. At noon, about 25 per cent had cast their votes, 6 points more than the midday turnout during the last election in 2011, the authorities said.

Latest polls predict heavy losses for Dr Merkel's Christian Democrats, which means that the centre-left Social Democrats may be able to drop them from their current coalition.

And that would likely increase the pressure on Dr Merkel - one year before a federal election - and could deepen divisions within her conservative camp.

Polling stations will close at 6pm and public broadcasters are expected to publish exit polls shortly afterwards.

A drubbing in the eastern state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern two weeks ago triggered calls from Dr Merkel's conservative allies in Bavaria to toughen up her migrant policy with measures such as introducing a cap of 200,000 refugees a year. But Dr Merkel has rejected such a limit.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 19, 2016, with the headline 'Merkel faces threat of populist gains in Berlin polls'. Print Edition | Subscribe