BERLIN – Voters in the German state of Saxony-Anhalt in eastern Germany appeared in a vote on Sunday to support the return of the Tories to power, who made strong gains in a contest that had been closely watched for signs of the strength of a far-right party months before a national election.
Early partial returns suggested that the conservative Christian Democratic Union was on the verge of breaking a back-to-back losing streak in state polls and expanding its earlier margins on the Nationalist Alternative for Germany, or AfD.
Although Saxony-Anhalt is one of the smallest states in the country, with just 1.8 million people eligible to vote, many Germans expected Sunday’s vote for indications of a national election for a new parliament on September 26.
Sunday’s result could support the campaign of Armin Laschet, the current leader of the Christian Democrats, who hopes to replace Angela Merkel. She is stepping down after 16 years in power as Chancellor.
Mr Laschet, 60, governor of North Rhine-Westphalia, has struggled to gain ground across the country, especially in the states of the former East Germany, and the good results of his party in the last regional elections before the national ballot could give a boost to its competition.
“Today is a clear victory for the Christian Democrats,” said Volker Bouffier, governor of the western state of Hesse and senior member of the Conservative Party. “But the fight is still at the beginning, the fight for the democratic center.”
Despite the conservatives’ apparent ability to attract more support, early partial returns suggest that the AfD remains firmly the second most popular party in the state, a position it won five years ago when it came to power. received almost a quarter of the votes in the state of Saxony-Anhalt. elections, shocking the country and propelling the far-right nationalist fringe party onto the national stage.
The following year, the AfD won over 12% of the national elections, becoming the largest opposition party in the national parliament, with 88 seats.
Since then, Alternative for Germany has struggled to tackle a more extremist wing that has pulled the party’s branch in Saxony-Anhalt even further to the right, drawing the attention of the country’s national intelligence services. State leaders within the party, as well as those in the Brandenburg and Thuringian branches, are under official scrutiny for their anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim statements. The question of whether the AfD at the national level will also be placed under observation is pending, pending the outcome of a legal challenge.
While the Saxony-Anhalt contest is largely unique to the region, with a strong focus on local issues like schools and economic restructuring, a majority of voters told pollsters with infratest.dimap on Sunday that they were satisfied. the work of their governor, Reiner Haseloff, a member of the Christian Democrats who has sought to clearly alienate his party from the AfD.
“I am grateful that our image remains, we have a reputation for democracy here in Saxony-Anhalt which we have respected this evening,” Mr Haseloff said after initial screenings showed his party the big winner of the evening.
Mr. Haseloff has been a strong supporter of the East German states, home to many regions that are still struggling with the fallout from economic restructuring more than 30 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
The persistent lack of jobs and economic infrastructure in these states, and the feeling that traditional parties do not take their concerns seriously, were other key factors that led many voters to shift their support towards the AfD five years ago. This result forced Mr. Haseloff to form a coalition government across a broad political spectrum, including center-left Social Democrats as well as Green environmentalists, in an effort to keep the far right in opposition.
On Sunday, the Social Democrats suffered one of their worst performances in a state election, while the Greens were able to garner marginal support in the region, where they have traditionally struggled to attract voters.
The other state ballot winner, along with the Tories, appeared to be the pro-business Free Democratic Party, which voters returned to state house for the first time in a decade.