Merkel’s conservatives win last state vote before general election

Angela Merkel's conservatives scored a convincing win at state elections in Saxony-Anhalt on Sunday, seeing off a threat from the far-right AfD in the final regional poll before the first election in 16 years not to feature the veteran chancellor.

Merkel's conservatives win last state vote before general election
CDU supporters react to the results in Magdeburg, Saxony-Anhalt. Photo: Bernd Von Jutrczenka/DPA

The CDU under new party chief Armin Laschet won between 35 and 36 percent of the vote, exit polls showed, with the anti-immigration party on between 22.5 and 23.5 percent.

READ ALSO: Merkel’s CDU faces final test as more Germans vote in regional elections

Pollsters had foreseen a neck-and-neck race between the CDU and the AfD,  with one survey for the Bild daily even predicting the far-right party would  win a state poll for the first time.

Saxony-Anhalt is one of Germany’s smallest states with a population of just  2.2 million, but Sunday’s clear victory gives the conservatives and their new  leader Armin Laschet a big boost in the run-up to Germany’s national election on September 26th.

“This is essentially a sensationally good result,” CDU general secretary  Paul Ziemiak said.

“CDU has won this eleciton clearly. Today is a good day.”

Merkel’s party has been a dominant force in the eastern region for decades,  topping all but one edition of state elections there since reunification in  1990.

‘Clear profile’

But the AfD established a strong foothold there in 2016, having capitalised  on anger over Merkel’s decision to allow in a wave of migrants from  conflict-torn countries such as Syria in 2015.

In that election, the CDU scooped 30 percent, forming a coalition with the  Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens. The AfD won 24 percent.

Although support for the AfD at the national level has stagnated at around 10 to 12 percent in recent months, the party continues to hold its own in the former East German states.

Nevertheless, the party has failed to increase its share of the vote in Saxony-Anhalt, despite recent moves to attract voters by styling itself as the  party bashing Merkel’s tough shutdown measures during the pandemic.

The result is also a huge boost for Armin Laschet, who was nominated as the  conservative chancellor candidate in April but had faced a series of setbacks as Merkel prepares to bow out.

Support for the CDU had plummeted earlier in the year amid anger over the government’s pandemic management and a corruption scandal involving shady coronavirus mask contracts.

At Germany’s last regional elections in March — in the states of Rhineland-Palatinate and Baden-Württemberg — the CDU suffered its worst ever results in both states.

READ ALSO: Merkel’s Conservatives suffer heavy losses in two German state elections

But the mood has picked up in Germany in recent weeks with the country’s vaccination campaign gathering pace and large parts of the country reopening after months of shutdowns.

Laschet has promised to maintain the CDU as the “force of the political middle ground”.

Ziemiak credited Laschet for the strong showing Sunday, underlining his  participation in the campaign there along with Saxony-Anhalt’s state premier Reiner Haseloff.

The result was “the largest increase (in vote share) in a state election since the victory of the CDU in North Rhine-Westphalia in 2017” — a win that Laschet had scooped for the CDU at that time.

Laschet, who is state premier of North Rhine-Westphalia, had succeeded in attracting voters by standing for “unity and a clear profile” on major structural changes in the region, said Ziemiak.

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Germany’s defence minister visits Ukraine: ministry

Germany's Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht made a surprise visit to Ukraine on Saturday, her first since Russia's invasion in February, as Kyiv urges Berlin to send it battle tanks.

Germany's defence minister visits Ukraine: ministry

Lambrecht visited the southern port city of Odessa, the German defence ministry said in a statement, without saying how long the trip had lasted. It added on Twitter that she had met her Ukrainian counterpart Oleksii Reznikov.

So far, no NATO country has supplied Western battle tanks to Kyiv.

Ukraine has repeatedly sought Leopard battle tanks from Germany to aid in its counter-attack against Russia, but Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s government has refused.

Scholz has said he doesn’t want to go it alone on arms supplies and will only take decisions in consultation with his Western allies.

Lambrecht reiterated this stance in Odessa: “We will always confer with our partners about what Ukraine needs,” she said.

“From my impressions today, air defence and artillery are currently at the forefront,” she told public broadcaster ARD.

She added that she had seen how the “populations were tormented by drones”.

Lambrecht’s visit came a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin declared the annexation of the Ukrainian regions of Donetsk, Lugansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson.

These annexations have been unanimously condemned by Ukraine’s allies.

“Germany will never recognise the results of the sham referendums” in the four regions, Scholz told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky by phone on Wednesday, according to the chancellor’s spokesman Steffen Hebestreit.

Scholz travelled to Ukraine in June, and Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock has visited Kyiv twice.