Nationalist party may gain wins as 3 German states vote

Nationalist party may gain wins as 3 German states vote

MAGDEBURG – The Associated Press
Nationalist party may gain wins as 3 German states vote

People hold up banners in Erfurt, central Germany, Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2016, during a demonstration initiated by the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party against the migrant situation in Germany. AP Photo

A rising nationalist party may ride unease about Chancellor Angela Merkel’s migrant policy to perform strongly in three German state elections this weekend, the first significant political test since last year’s massive influx of people seeking safety and a better life.

Alternative for Germany, or AfD, formed three years ago, is wooing voters with slogans such as “ENOUGH!” and “Secure borders instead of borderless crime.”

The party is expected to enter legislatures on March 13 in the diverse regions: prosperous Baden-Württemberg in the southwest, neighboring Rhineland-Palatinate, and relatively poor Saxony-Anhalt in the east. Other parties are not expected to share power with it, but its performance could complicate efforts to form state governments - particularly in Saxony-Anhalt, where polls give it up to 19 percent support.

Germany registered nearly 1.1 million people as asylum-seekers last year as Merkel insisted “we will manage” the challenge, a stance lauded by many but that drove others into AfD’s arms.

“What she did was issue a political invitation to a great many people in the world to set off for Europe, with catastrophic consequences for the structure of a Europe of freedom,” AfD leader Frauke Petry recently told foreign reporters.

Merkel is doggedly pursuing an elusive pan-European solution to the migrant crisis, even as other countries shut borders and German conservative allies demand national measures such as refugee quotas. Asked recently what would make her change course, she replied: “I cannot see anything that could bring that about, because it is all well thought-through and logical.”

But Petry, whose party already has lawmakers in five German state parliaments and at the European Parliament, argues that “having taken more than 1 million asylum seekers and awaiting many more, awaiting families as well, is going to cause huge problems in Germany.”

Merkel said this week that for “all those who want a constructive solution, who want to move things ahead, AfD is completely the wrong party,” accusing it of “working with emotions.”

Merkel’s own ratings have fallen over recent months but started recovering. The next national election is expected in late 2017, by when other parties hope AfD’s popularity will have subsided.

However, March 13 looks like being uncomfortable for both Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its national government partners, the center-left Social Democrats (SPD).

Merkel’s party leads Saxony-Anhalt’s government and hopes to oust center-left governors in the other two states. Chances of that no longer look so good.

In Baden-Württemberg, a traditional stronghold where Merkel’s CDU finished first in 2011 but lost power to a Green-led coalition, polls suggest the party could be embarrassingly beaten to first place by the left-leaning Greens.

Winfried Kretschmann, the Green governor, has a reassuringly conservative image and many prefer him to little-known CDU challenger Guido Wolf. He even sounds more enthusiastic about Merkel’s refugee policies than Wolf.

Wolf and Julia Kloeckner, who hopes to become Rhineland-Palatinate’s governor, tried to put a little distance between themselves and Merkel’s migrant approach, calling for Germany to impose daily refugee quotas. That is something Merkel opposes but that Austria has since done - a gambit that may backfire, giving the impression of disunity.