Merkel’s party fends off far-right challenge in state vote

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives fought off a challenge from far right in a state election Sunday that was seen as the last big test for Germany’s political parties before a national vote in September

Projections by public broadcaster ARD put Merkel’s center-right Christian Democratic Union at 36%, a gain of more than 6% compared to the last election in the sparsely populated state of 2.2 million five years ago.

The far-right Alternative for Germany was projected to get 22.5% of the vote, a slight drop compared to 2016. 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 election result is a strong endorsement for incumbent Gov. Reiner Haseloff of the CDU, who now has the comfort of being able to pick from three possible coalitions with smaller parties. The 67-year-old Haseloff, whose popularity in the state was a strong pull for voters, ruled out any cooperation with Alternative for Germany or the ex-communist Left party.

Projections show that the pro-business Free Democrats entered the state assembly again after missing out five years ago.

While elections in Germany’s 16 states are often influenced by local issues and voting sentiments, they are also seen as important bellwethers for the national mood. A strong win for the CDU would be seen as a sign that the party’s new leader, Armin Laschet, can hope for support from both conservatives and centrists on Sept. 26, when the CDU aims to hold onto power at the federal level despite four-term chancellor Merkel not running again.