Justin Huggler — Telegraph.co.uk Sept 18, 2016
Angela Merkel suffered damaging losses at the hands of Germany’s resurgent far-Right in regional elections in Berlin on Sunday evening.
The anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) party won the highest share of the vote for the far-Right in Berlin since the Second World War, with around 14 percent, according to public broadcasters’ projections.
Mrs Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) suffered their worst ever results in the German capital, with just 17.5 per cent of the vote.
But the results will be viewed with some relief by the chancellor and her allies, after the AfD fell considerably short of expectations.
Forecast just days ago to win as much as 15 per cent and come third, the openly anti-Muslim party was beaten into fifth place by the Greens and the Left Party.
It will still be enough to secure the far-Right its first seats in the Berlin state parliament since the 1990 reunification of Germany.
“From zero to double-digits, that’s a first for Berlin,” cheered the AfD’s top Berlin candidate, Georg Pazderski, predicting that the electorate would next year kick out Merkel’s national Right-Left grand coalition.
“We have achieved a great result,” said Beatrix von Storch, one of the AfD’s leaders. “We have arrived in the capital and are on our way to the Bundestag.”
The AfD will have to wait at least until next year to win seats in the Bundestag, the national parliament.
At stake in Sunday’s election was the Berlin state legislature. With a population of 3.6 million, Berlin is one of Germany’s 16 federal states in its own right.
“Berlin continues to stand for social and human decency,” Sigmar Gabriel, the German vice-chancellor and leader of Mrs Merkel’s coalition partner, the centre-Left Social Democrats (SPD) said.
“Of course we’re not happy that they have won seats in parliament. But almost 90 per cent of Berliners did not vote for the AfD.”
— Europe Elects (@EuropeElects) September 18, 2016
The AfD has been riding high on popular discontent with Mrs Merkel’s “open-door” refugee policy.
She has suffered considerably worse losses at the party’s hands in other states this year, but the Berlin results will be seen as highly significant.
For many Germans, the city is emblematic of their country’s rise from the ashes of the Second World War and the Cold War, and is inextricably linked with modern Germany’s reputation for tolerance and openness.
Michael Müller, the city’s mayor, pleaded with people not to vote for the AfD last week, warning it “would be seen around the world as a return of the far-Right and the Nazis to Germany.”
The Berlin gains represent new territory for the AfD, most of whose previous successes have been in impoverished areas of the former communist east.
The strong showing in Berlin proves the AfD “doesn’t just trade off discontent in rural areas but can establish itself in a city of millions known for its open lifestyle,” Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung newspaper wrote in an editorial.
Traditionally left-leaning Berlin is a stronghold for the SPD, and it won the election as expected but suffered heavy losses, securing just 23 per cent of the vote compared to 28 per cent in 2011.
“We remained the strongest political force in this city and we have a mandate to govern,” Mr Müller said.
Mrs Merkel’s CDU came second, but with just 18 per cent of the vote the result was disastrous for the party. It will almost certainly be forced out of the Berlin state government, where it previously served as junior coalition partner to the SPD.
Mr Müller is expected to seek a new coalition with the Greens, and the Left Party, who each secured around 16.5 per cent of the vote.