German Chancellor's Party Has Poor Showing In Her Home State Election

Sep 5, 2016
Originally published on September 5, 2016 9:27 am
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STEEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The leader of Germany received a rebuke yesterday. Chancellor Angela Merkel has welcomed more than 1 million migrants and refugees to her country. Yesterday, an anti-immigrant party did well in a local election. And it was in a German state that is at the heart of Merkel's support. Here's NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Angela Merkel has tended to ignore critics of her we-can-do-this approach to the large number of asylum seekers coming to Germany.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Shouting in German).

SARHADDI NELSON: Even disgruntled constituents in her electoral district haven't rattled her, including these protesters who earlier this year shouted, Merkel must go, as she got out of a car.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Shouting in German).

SARHADDI NELSON: But not responding to voters' concerns here in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania proved to be a mistake when a new nationalist party capitalized on it in yesterday's state elections here. The 3-year-old Alternative for Germany, or AfD, will now be a sizeable presence in the local Parliament, having cut not only into Merkel's voter base, but that of other established political parties, most of whom embrace her refugee policies. AfD's strategy was to raise fears that asylum seekers under Merkel's watch are swarming the country and tearing it apart economically and culturally.

(SOUNDBITE OF RAINFALL)

SARHADDI NELSON: Despite heavy rain, voter turnout yesterday was unusually high, which many here in the state capital attributed to a desire to send the three-term German chancellor a harsh message. Germans are fiercely private about their voting. And this man would only give me his first name, Thorsten.

THORSTEN: (Speaking German).

SARHADDI NELSON: He says it may have been a state election but that he and his friends cast their ballots as a protest vote against Berlin. He wouldn't say whether he voted for AfD but said his friends did so over Merkel's failure to come up with a sensible refugee policy. Other voters I interviewed say the financial insecurity of living in the former East Germany is why people are embracing the AfD and its calls for people power and German pride.

Salaries in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania are lower and unemployment higher than the national German average. Fifteen percent of the population has moved away since the reunification of East and West Germany a quarter century ago.

ANKE GROTHEER: (Speaking German).

SARHADDI NELSON: Voter Anke Grotheer says she was frightened by the pro-AfD turnout and that such parties are able to get on the ballot. The 72-year-old pensioner says, it's almost like the Weimar Republic, referring to the fractured German government that preceded the Nazi regime. She adds, one has to ask oneself, how is something like this even possible again in Germany? Local AfD leader Leif-Erik Holm, on the other hand, was ecstatic.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LEIF-ERIK HOLM: (Speaking German).

SARHADDI NELSON: "People have shown they no longer want Merkel's politics," he told German broadcaster ARD, adding this could be the beginning of the end of her chancellorship. But with national elections still a year off, that view isn't widely shared in Germany, not even by her mainstream political opponents, like Green Party leader Cem Ozdemir, whose party lost its seats in yesterday's state vote.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CEM OZDEMIR: (Speaking German).

SARHADDI NELSON: He says, "it's not right to blame Merkel. I'm not one who usually defends her, but we all wanted this refugee policy and have to accept responsibility for it."

Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Schwerin, Northeastern Germany. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.