Merkel faces setback in Berlin vote due to migrant fears

Voters flocked to the polling booths on Sunday in a Berlin city election in which Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives look set to suffer their second electoral blow in two weeks as voters express unease with her refugee-friendly policy. The anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) is expected to profit from a popular backlash over Merkel’s decision a year ago to keep borders open for refugees and the party is poised to enter its tenth regional assembly out of Germany’s 16 states. Voting in the German capital started at 8 a.m. (0600 GMT) and some 2.5 million people are eligible to decide who should represent them in the Berlin city assembly. Queues formed in front of many polling stations, with the sunny weather helping to boost the turnout. At noon, some 25 percent had cast their vote, 6 points more than the midday turnout during the last election in 2011, authorities said.

And still we have to try, again and again, because I think we must not give up on people who are casting protest votes.

Angela Merkel

Polls point to heavy losses for Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) in the vote which means the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) may be able to ditch them from their current coalition. That would likely raise the pressure further on Merkel one year before a federal election and could deepen divisions within her conservative camp. Polling stations will close at 6 p.m. (1600 GMT) and public broadcasters will publish exit polls shortly afterwards. First projections are expected roughly half an hour later. A drubbing in the eastern state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern two weeks ago triggered calls from Merkel’s conservative allies in Bavaria to toughen up her migrant policy with measures such as introducing a cap of 200,000 refugees per year.