German Chancellor Angela Merkel is facing criticism over her refugee policies following disappointing election results in her home state of Mecklenburg-West Pomerania on Sunday.
“I am very unhappy with the outcome of yesterday’s federal state elections in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania,” she said, addressing the results while attending the G20 Summit in Hangzhou, China.
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The right-wing, anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD) party came second, garnering 21 per cent of the vote and beating the regional chapter of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party, which came in third in the polls.
The centre-left Social Democrats, who led the outgoing state government in a coalition with the conservatives, remained the strongest party with 30.6 per cent support.
Merkel went on to defend her policies, but said there is work to be done.
“I am the party leader, I am the chancellor — you can’t separate those in people’s eyes, so I am of course responsible too for the result,” she said. “However, I believe the decisions that have been made were right, and now we must continue working.”
She is now being urged by some, including members of her own party to rethink her pro- migrant stance which many believe is the reason for the AFD’s strong showing in this state election.
“A recognizable part of the people had an explicit wish to voice displeasure and protest, and we saw that particularly strongly in the discussion about refugees,” said CDU secretary-general Peter Tauber.
READ MORE: Merkel’s party loses to anti-immigration nationalists in German state vote
The AfD sees the triumph as a sign of things to come.
“Perhaps today is the beginning of the end of the chancellorship of Angela Merkel,” said Leif- Erik Holm, AFD party leader after election results were announced.
“It is a clear signal for Berlin, first of all for the upcoming elections in two weeks when we will enter a state parliament for the 10th time. It is also a clear signal towards the federal elections. Our long term goal is to govern,” added Joerg Meuthen, AfD’s national co-leader.
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Social scientist and AfD expert Sebastien Friedrich agrees the strong showing in Sunday’s polls for the party won’t be the last, but he believes their success could be limited.
“I think that the AfD will make it into the Berlin parliament in two weeks time, as well as in state parliaments and the German parliament next year,” he said. “Right now, I can’t see that they will govern in a state or the German parliament. They will be a radical opposition that uses the parliament to spread their ideology.”
Merkel famously said “Wir Schaffen Das,” which means “We can cope,” when the waves of migrants started pouring into the country a year ago. Many Germans supported her stance but with these most recent election results the tide appears to be turning and some Germans now appear to be questioning whether the country can really cope.
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Germany took in more than one million migrants and refugees last year, by far the largest number in Europe. But there are are now questions about the numbers coming to Germany, particularly following several terror attacks this summer.
Security concerns in Germany have grown following a failed suicide bombing by a Syrian refugee claimant, an axe attack on a train carried out by an Afghan teen claiming asylum, and a machete attack by another Syrian claiming refugee status in the country.
State and regional elections being held across the country are largely seen as a test ahead of next year’s federal. Attention will now turn to Berlin which holds its regional elections on Sept. 18.
With files from The Associated Press
Melanie de Klerk is an assignment editor at Global National. She is currently living in Berlin as one of the 2016 Arthur F. Burns Journalism Fellows.