The Alternative for Germany (AfD) is riding high on a wave of voter anger over refugees and the planned closure of coal mines in the eastern region. The AfD candidates are portraying themselves as the rightful heirs of the demonstrators who brought about the fall of the Berlin Wall three decades ago.
There is a very broad disillusionment in much of the east with all the established parties
Opinion polls show the AfD’s share of the vote could rise from 9.7 percent to as high as 24 percent in Saxony.
Sizable gains are also predicted in Brandenburg where the AfD received 12.2 percent of the vote in 2014 and is now polling around 22 percent.
Double-digit gains for the AdF will be enough to unseat Mrs Merkel’s conservatives in Saxony and see her Social Democrat (SPD) national partners lose power in Brandenburg.
The parties have led the respective states since the Wall came down in 1990, mostly in coalitions.
But the AfD is expected to take votes from both parties in the elections held two months before Germany marks 30 years since the fall of the Cold War’s most potent symbol.
AfD election posters tell voters to “Complete the change started in 1989”.
With the word “Wende”, used to describe the fall of East German Communism, the posters say: “1989 2019. Wende 2.0. Be there when history is made!”
Hans Vorlaender, director of a political research centre in Dresden, said: “There is a very broad disillusionment in much of the east with all the established parties and the AfD is dominant as it makes people feel they are being listened to.”
The next few months will be crucial if Mrs Merkel’s fragile coalition is to survive until federal elections in 2021.
The coalition has been weakened by rows over migrant policy, tax and pensions and many SPD members want to quit an alliance that has kept Mrs Merkel in power for 10 of the last 14 years and rebuild in opposition.
A collapse of the coalition could trigger a snap election or result in a minority government – unappealing options for stability-loving Germans.
National polls put the conservatives first, with the Greens close behind and the SPD trailing neck and neck with the AfD.
The Greens have also made big gains in both states and may end up coalition kingmaker.
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Heavy losses in state votes last year led Mrs Merkel, brought up in East Germany, to quit as CDU leader and announce this would be her last term.
The SPD, which rules with the radical Left party in Brandenburg, sank into turmoil after its worst performance in European elections in May, is hovering close to record lows and is still searching for a leader.
Nils Diederich, political scientist at Berlin’s Free University, said: “These elections will be catastrophic for Merkel’s CDU because of the broad appeal of the AfD and catastrophic for the Social Democrats (SPD) who are in any case in decline.”
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