Merkel's party hit by anti-migrant anger in Berlin poll

AfD's co-leader Joerg Meuthen (left) and the party's top Berlin candidate, Mr Georg Pazderski, smiling after the first exit polls of the Berlin election in Germany on Sunday. The anti-Islam party won fresh support.
AfD's co-leader Joerg Meuthen (left) and the party's top Berlin candidate, Mr Georg Pazderski, smiling after the first exit polls of the Berlin election in Germany on Sunday. The anti-Islam party won fresh support.PHOTO: REUTERS

BERLIN • German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said she accepts her share of responsibility for her conservatives' drubbing in a Berlin state election when voters punished the party for her refugee-friendly migrant policy.

Dr Merkel's party suffered a historic loss in the election, while the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party gained fresh support on a wave of anger over her open-door refugee policy.

The anti-Islam AfD won around 14 per cent of Sunday's vote, according to broadcasters' projections, in the capital which has long prided itself on being a hip, diverse and multicultural city.

The strong AfD result, thanks to support especially in the vast tower block districts in Berlin's former communist east, meant it has now won opposition seats in 10 of Germany's 16 states, a year ahead of national elections.

Dr Merkel's centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) won only 17.5 per cent - its worst post-war result in the city, before or after the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall - which is likely to spell the end of its term as junior coalition partner to the Social Democrats (SPD), who won around 22 per cent.

The election in the chronically indebted city-state of 3.5 million people was dominated by local issues, including poor public services, crumbling school buildings, late trains and a housing shortage, as well as problems in coping with the migrant influx.

Germany, the biggest European Union economy, took in one million asylum seekers last year, and over 70,000 of them came to Berlin, with thousands still housed in the cavernous hangars of the Nazi-built former Tempelhof airport.

Dr Merkel said she would turn back time if she could to be better prepared for the influx of around one million migrants who flooded into Germany last year, adding that if she knew how people wanted her to change her migrant policy, she would consider it.

Saying it is necessary to reach out to AfD voters, Dr Merkel added that if the wish of the German people was for the country not to be swamped with uncontrolled and unregulated migration, "then that is exactly what I am fighting for".

Berlin's SPD mayor Michael Mueller had dramatically warned before the polls that a strong AfD result would be "seen throughout the world as a sign of the resurgence of the right and of Nazis in Germany".

The vote marked another milestone for the upstart AfD, which has campaigned on a xenophobic platform similar to France's National Front or far-right populists in Austria and the Netherlands.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 20, 2016, with the headline 'Merkel's party hit by anti-migrant anger in Berlin poll'. Print Edition | Subscribe