BERLIN (AP) – A state vote tomorrow is German politicians’ last major test at the ballot box before a September election that will determine who succeeds Chancellor Angela Merkel.
After a bumpy start to the year, the longtime leader’s bloc is hoping for a good showing in an eastern region where a far-right party is a strong challenger.
The vote for a new legislature in Saxony-Anhalt, a state of 2.2 million people that is one of Germany’s less prosperous, puts a sharp focus on one problem Merkel’s party (CDU) faces in the east: reining in the far-right Alternative for Germany, or AfD.
Its bigger challenge nationally is on its other flank: keeping at bay the environmentalist Greens, who are strongest in western Germany and in big cities.
And Armin Laschet, the centrist CDU leader who is running to succeed Merkel as chancellor in the September 26 national election, needs to rally conservatives behind him after he emerged as the party’s candidate from a bruising duel in April.
The election year started badly for the CDU when it lost two state votes in March to popular incumbent governors from more liberal parties.
In Saxony-Anhalt, it has a popular incumbent of its own in Reiner Haseloff, 67, who has governed for the past decade.
Most recent polls put Haseloff’s party a few points ahead of AfD, though one showed the parties roughly level.
AfD took nearly a quarter of the vote in Saxony-Anhalt’s last state election five years ago.
It appears on course for a similar performance this time, although its local branch lacks prominent figures and is viewed as being on the party’s hard-right wing.
“We cannot want a radical right-wing party to be the strongest party in a German state legislature, so what happens in Saxony-Anhalt tomorrow is something that should concern all democrats,” Laschet told Deutschlandfunk radio this week.
AfD fed on anger at Merkel’s welcome of migrants in 2015 and has drifted steadily further right.