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Populist surge piles pressure on Merkel

By Agence France-Presse in Berlin | China Daily | Updated: 2016-09-20 07:11

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's party on Monday digested another stinging poll loss in Berlin state elections, and the relentless rise of the right-wing populist AfD which rails against her liberal refugee policy.

With one year to go until an expected general election, Merkel's conservatives were licking their wounds after being turfed out of the left-right coalition government in the capital, Germany's biggest city.

It was the fifth regional poll in a row showing losses for the Christian Democrats that Merkel will have to answer for, as voter angst over the arrival of one million refugees and migrants last year continues to shake her once firm standing with the electorate.

Markus Soeder, a vocal critic from her conservative bloc, called the vote a "massive wake-up call" for her to impose strict limits on migration.

"The Christian Union risks a lasting and giant loss of trust among its core voters," he told the daily Bild.

Analysts said the drubbing would force Merkel, widely seen as Europe's most influential leader, to focus on German affairs at a time when the EU is facing slugging economic growth, growing divisions over its migration policy and Britain's impending exit.

The Berlin election continued a trend of surging support for fringe parties, with both the far left and the right wing the winners of the day.

It also mirrored the march of anti-migrant parties in France, Austria and the Netherlands and Republican maverick Donald Trump in the United States.

Foothold for hard right

The upstart Alternative for Germany, or AfD, harnessed a wave of popular anger to claim around 14 percent of the vote in a city that has long prided itself on its diversity and international appeal.

The strong AfD result, thanks to support especially in the vast tower block districts in Berlin's former east a quarter century after reunification, meant it has now won opposition seats in 10 of Germany's 16 states.

But its fifth-place showing fell well short of its expectations, leading some analysts to suggest its spectacular success in recent months is losing some steam.

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