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BERLIN – Germany’s ruling Christian Democrats achieved a sovereign victory in a closely monitored regional election on Sunday and gave the conservative bloc a decisive boost in the final test before the parliamentary elections in September.
The center-right Christian Democrats (CDU) won 36.5 percent of the votes in the state elections on Sunday in Saxony-Anhalt, according to early projections by the national broadcasters, and the right-wing extremist party Alternative for Germany (AfD) with 22.7 percent. relegated to a distant second place percent.
This means that the CDU, in coalition with smaller parties, will almost certainly retain control of the state.
The victory is likely to allay fears that the CDU is vulnerable on its right flank after a vicious fight for chancellor candidacy in April, which some feared would split the conservative bloc ahead of the September elections. He has also given a significant boost to the new CDU leader Armin Laschet, who will succeed Angela Merkel and extend the 16-year seizure of power by his party.
The CDU has slipped in national polls in recent months, as many voters are flirting with the idea of the Greens. The eco party has prevailed in many polls with the CDU and its Bavarian sister party, the CSU, suggesting that it has a chance to lead the next German government. The CDU is also being attacked by the AfD, especially in the former GDR federal states, where the xenophobic party is particularly strong.
As an eastern federal state with fewer than 2 million voters, Saxony-Anhalt does not normally have much influence on German federal politics. But this year the timing of the state elections was something of a motto, because it was the last time the Germans would vote before electing a new federal government and a successor to Merkel on September 26th.
In the run-up to election day, the AfD was on a par with the CDU in many polls, which suggested a possible first national victory for the anti-emigrant party.
Instead, this prospect seems to have led voters to support the incumbent Prime Minister Reiner Haseloff from the CDU. Haseloff, who has ruled the country since 2011, posted his strongest result to date on Sunday.
“I am grateful to all of our citizens that a really considerable majority voted for democracy and drawn a line between us and the right and preserved our image as democrats,” said Haseloff in an interview with German public television.
Most observers attributed the CDU’s victory to Haseloff’s personal popularity. Nevertheless, the victory was also good news for Laschet, who stood up for Haseloff in the country, even though the Prime Minister had supported Laschet’s rival, Bavaria’s head of state Markus Söder, in the race for the conservative bloc’s candidate for chancellor.
A CDU defeat in Saxony-Anhalt by the AfD would have been a disaster for Laschet and renewed questions about his suitability as a candidate for the leadership of the state.
Although the AfD, which is known in Saxony-Anhalt for particularly extremist views, still received almost a quarter of the votes – more than double the around 10 percent that the party receives in nationwide surveys – the result was slightly below that what the party received in the polls the last election in 2016 with a loss of around 1.6 percentage points.
Even if the CDU was able to take advantage of fears that the AfD would perform well, the parties on the left-wing political spectrum had a harder time.
The Greens, traditionally weak in the eastern federal states, received 5.6 percent of the vote, slightly more than in the last election in 2016 with 5.2 percent.
The Social Democrats (SPD), who had fought across Germany in recent years and fell below the 10 percent threshold to 8 percent, fared even worse, a minus of almost 3 percentage points. The same applied to the left-wing Die Linke, the successor to the Communist Party of the GDR, which only won 10.6 percent after more than 16 percent five years ago.
The Free Democrats (FDP), a conservative liberal party, won 6.5 percent, an increase of almost 2 percentage points compared to 2016.
This raises the possibility that the CDU will drop the Greens in order to forge a coalition with the SPD and FDP, the traditional partner of the center-right.