MAGDEBURG, Germany -Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives look set for a resounding victory in a state election in eastern Germany on Sunday, in a boost to Armin Laschet, who hopes to succeed her in September’s national election.
An exit poll for public broadcaster MDR had the Christian Democrats (CDU) on 36%, up more than 6 points on five years ago, and far ahead of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), who were on 22.5%, slightly down on the previous election.
Polls ahead of the election had placed the AfD as little as one point behind the CDU, triggering nervousness in Merkel’s party, with some analysts suggesting a slender margin of victory might cost Laschet his candidacy.
Laschet’s allies are likely to see the result as an endorsement of the centrist, continuity-Merkel course he has charted, and a rejection of those who urged the party to move to the right in order to avoid being outflanked by the far right.
Casting his vote, conservative state premier Reiner Haseloff said he had done all he could to persuade voters in the relatively poor region not to turn to the far right.
“I’ve done everything necessary and possible to persuade people that we need stability and a democratic centre,” he told reporters in his home town of Wittenberg, where in 1517 Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses critical of the Pope to a church door, igniting the Protestant Reformation.
Merkel, in power since 2005, is stepping down after the federal election, and senior CDU officials concede that it will be tough to retain their party’s appeal to voters after 16 years in charge.