Merkel's centre-right CDU fends off far-right AfD challenge in state voteComments
Angela Merkel's centre-right party won the most votes in Saxony-Anhalt, where voters went to the polls to elect a new state assembly on Sunday, in an election seen as a last test before the national election in September.
The Christian Democratic Union (CDU) won the election with 37.1% of the vote, final results showed, far ahead of the far-right Alternative for Germany with 20.8%.
Pre-election polls had pointed to a much narrower outcome, in some cases even a neck-and-neck race.
Five years ago, the German chancellor's party won the election in the sparsely populated state of 2.2 million. Compared with the last election, the CDU gained over 7 percentage points, while Alternative for Germany dropped 3.5 points.
The election result is a strong endorsement of incumbent governor Reiner Haseloff, a member of Merkel's CDU, who will be able to pick from three possible coalitions with smaller parties.
The 67-year-old Haseloff had ruled out any cooperation with AfD or the ex-communist Left party.
He expressed relief that voters backed centrist parties, saying the result showed a "big, big majority had made a democratic choice and drawn a clear demarcation line to the right."
A win in the state fosters hope the party's new leader, Armin Laschet, will be able to gather support from both conservatives and centrists in this fall's national election.
The AfD has benefited from anti-government sentiment in the state, which until 1990 was part of communist East Germany.
But the party has moved steadily further to the right in recent years and its chapter in Saxony-Anhalt has come under increased scrutiny from Germany's domestic intelligence service for its ties to extremist groups.
The AfD has lately campaigned strongly against pandemic restrictions, and its election posters urged voters to demonstrate their “resistance” at the ballot box.
The Social Democrats took 8.4% of the vote, dropping into single digits for the first time in the state. The Greens scored 5.9%, making only limited gains despite their current strong showing in national polls.
In the past five years, Saxony-Anhalt was run in a coalition with the Social Democrats and Greens. But Haseloff may no longer need them to form a state government.