Center-left Social Democrats (SPD) and anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) parties appear to have taken first and second place respectively in Sunday’s elections in a German state where Chancellor Angela Merkel has her political base.
ARD and ZDF public television exit polls put support for SPD in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania at around 30 percent. They put support for AfD at 21 percent, with Merkel's Christian Democrats at about 19 percent.
Germany Election: AfD member Alexander Gauland, left, and Leif-Erik Holm, center, top candidate of the AfD, celebrate at the gathering of the AfD (Alternative for Germany) party in Schwerin, Germany, Sunday, Sept. 4, 2016 after the state elections in the German federal state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania.
Merkel's refugee policies were a prominent issue in the campaign for Sunday's election, held a year after she decided to allow migrants to enter Germany from Hungary, setting off the peak of last year's influx.
Germany expanded its refugee program that welcomed tens of thousands of Syrians and other refugees who were in danger from war and terrorism.
Frieder Weinhold, a CDU candidate, acknowledged the “migration policy has sparked a feeling of insecurity among the people.”
The northeastern state of Mecklenburg-West Pomerania, however, under the quota system based on states’ income, took in only 25,000 asylum seekers last year. Most people, Weinhold said, prefer to move to places where there are more jobs, people and shops.
Merkel, who is considering a bid for a fourth term as chancellor, had warned voters against the rhetoric politics offered by AfD with its anti-refugee sentiment. She urged constituents to look beyond divisive campaign slogans.
Merkel has supported a quota system for the 28-member European Union to accept would-be immigrants.
Several EU members, particularly those in the east with pro-nationalist leaders, oppose any plans to take in migrants from the Middle East and South Asia, while others oppose quotas.