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Angela Merkel's party suffers bruising loss in Berlin elections as far-right party gains

Merkel is facing anger from German citizens over her open-door refugee policy.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel
German Chancellor Angela Merkel
Image: AP Photo/Ronald Zak

GERMAN CHANCELLOR ANGELA Merkel’s party suffered a bruising loss in Berlin state elections today while the right-wing populist AfD again gained support, capitalising on anger over her open-door refugee policy.

The anti-Islam Alternative for Germany party won around 12%, according to broadcasters’ exit polls in the capital, which prides itself on being a hip, multicultural city – gaining seats in the tenth of Germany’s 16 states a year ahead of national elections.

Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union won just 18% – its worst post-war result in the city, before or after the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall – according to the exit polls, likely spelling the end of its term as junior coalition partner to the Social Democrats, who won 23%.

The election in the chronically indebted city-state of 3.5 million people was dominated by many local issues including poor public services, crumbling schools, late trains and a housing shortage, as well as how to cope with the migrant influx.

Germany Elections A poster with German Chancellor Angela Merkel displayed in Berlin. Source: Markus Schreiber/AP Photo

Nonetheless, the vote marked another milestone for the upstart AfD, which has campaigned on a xenophobic platform, similar to France’s National Front or far-right populists in Austria and the Netherlands, and gained support especially in Berlin’s poor eastern fringe districts.

A strong showing in Germany’s biggest city means it “doesn’t just benefit from discontent in rural areas but can establish itself… in a city of millions that is known for its open lifestyle,” said the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung newspaper.

Germany took in one million asylum seekers last year, and over 70,000 of them came to Berlin, with many housed in the cavernous hangars of the Nazi-built former Tempelhof airport, once the hub for the Cold War-era Berlin airlift.

Merkel – who was booed this week by right-wing activists shouting “get lost” – before the election conceded it was hard to reach the “protest voters” who have turned their backs on mainstream parties.

Berlin’s SPD Mayor Michael Mueller dramatically warned on the eve of the election that a strong AfD result would be “seen throughout the world as a sign of the resurgence of the right and of Nazis in Germany”.

Germany Berlin Elections Mayor of Berlin Michael Mueller arrives at the party's main election event today. Source: Markus Schreiber/AP Phot

Merkel’s CDU has a national majority – but in Berlin it has served as junior coalition partner to Mueller’s SPD, traditionally the strongest party in the city.

As Mueller has rejected a new coalition with the CDU, Merkel’s party may be cast out of the Berlin government altogether.

© AFP 2016

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