BERLIN – Germany’s ruling Christian Democrats on Sunday won a landslide victory in a closely watched regional election, giving the Tory bloc a crucial boost in the final test ahead of the September general election.
The center-right Christian Democrats (CDU) won 36.5% of the vote in Sunday’s parliamentary elections in Saxony-Anhalt, according to initial projections by national broadcasters, relegating the far-right Alternative for Germany party (AfD) at a second distance with 22.7 percent.
This means that the CDU is almost certain to retain state control in coalition with smaller parties.
The victory will likely crush fears that the CDU is vulnerable on its right flank following a caustic battle for the chancellor’s candidacy in April that some say will divide the Tory bloc ahead of the September elections. He has also given a substantial boost to the new CDU leader, Armin Laschet, who is running to succeed Angela Merkel and extend his party’s 16 years in power.
The CDU has slipped in national polls in recent months as many voters flirt with the idea of voting for the Greens. The environmentalist party has equaled the CDU and its sister Bavarian party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), in numerous polls, suggesting it has a chance to lead the next German government. The CDU is also under attack by the AfD, especially in the former East German states, where the xenophobic party is particularly strong.
An eastern state with less than 2 million voters, Saxony-Anhalt normally does not have much impact on German national politics. But this year the timing of the state election made it sort of a barometer, as it was the last time the Germans would go to the polls before selecting a new federal government and a successor to Merkel. September 26.
As Election Day approached, the AfD was neck and neck with the CDU in numerous polls, citing the possibility of the anti-immigrant party winning its first state.
Instead, the prospect appears to have prompted voters to back outgoing CDU Prime Minister Reiner Haseloff. Haseloff, who has led the state since 2011, recorded his best result to date on Sunday.
“I am grateful to all of our citizens that a truly substantial majority chose democracy and drew a line between us and the right, preserving our image as democrats,” Haseloff said in an interview on German public television.
Most observers attributed the CDU’s victory to Haseloff’s personal popularity. Even so, the victory was also good news for Laschet, who campaigned for Haseloff in the state even though the state prime minister had backed Laschet’s rival, Bavarian leader Markus Söder, in the race to become the Conservative bloc’s candidate for chancellor.
A defeat of the CDU in Saxony-Anhalt at the hands of the AfD would have been a total disaster for Laschet and would have renewed questions about his suitability as a candidate for the head of the country.
Although the AfD, which in Saxony-Anhalt has a reputation for having particularly extremist views, still won almost a quarter of the vote – more than double the roughly 10% the party receives in national polls – the result was slightly lower than what the party had in the last election in 2016, with a loss of around 1.6 percentage points.
Left parties are fighting
Even though the CDU has managed to capitalize on concerns that the AfD will perform well, left-wing parties across the political spectrum have seen more difficult times.
The Greens, who are traditionally weak in the eastern states, won 5.6% of the vote, slightly better than the 5.2% recorded in the last election in 2016.
The Social Democrats (SPD), who have fought across Germany in recent years, have done even worse, falling below the 10 percent threshold to 8 percent, a drop of almost 3 percentage points. The same goes for leftist Die Linke, successor to the East German Communist Party, who won just 10.6% after collecting more than 16% five years ago.
The Free Democrats (FDP), a conservative liberal party, won 6.5%, an increase of almost 2 percentage points from 2016.
This raises the possibility that the CDU may drop the Greens to forge a coalition with the SPD and the FDP, the traditional center-right partner.