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State vote seen as last test before German national election

Voters in Saxony-Anhalt went to the polls Sunday to elect a new state assembly in what is seen as the last big test for Germany's political parties before a national election in September.

State vote seen as last test before German national election
Representative image


Chancellor Angela Merkel's center-right Christian Democratic Union won the last election in the sparsely populated state of 2.2 million five years ago. Recent opinion polls show it faces a strong challenge from the far-right Alternative for Germany, which came second in Saxony-Anhalt in 2016.

Incumbent governor Reiner Haseloff, a member of Merkel's CDU, is popular with voters in the state.

Alternative for Germany has benefited from anti-government sentiment in the state, which until 1990 was part of communist East Germany.

The party has lately campaigned strongly against pandemic restrictions, and its election posters urged voters to demonstrate their “resistance” at the ballot box.

Its local leader, former car salesman Oliver Kirchner, has close ties to the extreme right of the party. His regional chapter has been under heightened surveillance by Germany's domestic intelligence agency since the start of the year.

The environmentalist Greens, who have been riding high in national polls, aim to reach 10 per cent in Saxony-Anhalt, while the center-left Social Democrats are hoping to stay above that mark. Both have been part of Haseloff''s governing coalition for the past five years.

Haseloff, 67, has ruled out any cooperation with Alternative for Germany or the ex-communist Left party.

Polls indicate the pro-business Free Democrats may enter 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 September 26, when the CDU aims to hold onto power at the federal level despite four-term chancellor Merkel not running again.

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