German Voters in Saxony May Weaken Merkel’s Power in East

German voters in the eastern state of Saxony go to the polls today as the dominance of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party in the region may be weakened by the entry of an anti-euro party into the state assembly.

In the first state election since Merkel led her Christian Democratic Union to her third national victory last year, polls suggest the CDU, which has governed Saxony since German reunification in 1990, will extend its stewardship.

Traditional alliances could be tested by the Alternative for Germany, which has been an irritant to Merkel as she faces criticism from conservatives that she’s straying from core CDU values. Polls show the AfD, as the party is known in German, poised to enter the assembly. Projections based on exit polls are due at 6 p.m. Berlin time as polling stations close.

“We have to expect that they’ll get in,” Manfred Guellner, who heads Berlin-based polling company Forsa, said in an interview. “Still, the CDU is by far the dominant party in Saxony. The only question is who they’ll form a coalition with.”

Even as Merkel’s CDU shows few signs of weakness, the vote in Saxony could extend the shakeup of German politics by ending the last state coalition with the CDU’s traditional ally, the Free Democratic Party. The pro-business FDP dropped out of Germany’s national parliament last September after failing to clear the 5 percent threshold needed to win seats.

Saxony is the first of three eastern regions comprising half of the area’s voters to hold elections in a two-week span. The state of 4 million people is the richest of the six eastern states except Berlin. Brandenburg, which surrounds Berlin, and Thuringia vote on Sept. 14.

CDU Leads

The CDU is at 40.5 percent before the Saxony vote, mirroring its national level, according to an Aug. 28 poll for broadcaster ZDF. The AfD had 7 percent, with 3 percent for the FDP.

The Social Democrats, who govern as junior partner to Merkel nationally in a so-called grand coalition, had 15 percent support, the poll showed, near its lowest level in all German states. The Greens would enter the assembly with 5.5 percent of the vote.

The election could also see a reappearance of the anti-immigrant National Democratic Party of Germany, which gained a foothold in the state vote five years ago and could do so again. The ZDF poll showed the NPD at 5 percent.

The AfD has sought support partly by toning down its push against the euro and highlighting issues such as education, families and fighting crime. Guellner said the party is also siphoning voters who previously supported the NPD by using rhetoric against foreigners.

Options Open

Saxony’s CDU premier, Stanislaw Tillich, has refused to rule out coalition talks with any other party if the FDP fails to re-enter parliament.

If the result matches the polls, the most likely outcome would be a CDU-SPD grand coalition in the state or an alliance between Merkel’s party and the Greens, similar to a coalition set up last year in the state of Hesse, Guellner said.

Merkel’s party may fare less well in next month’s two elections in the formerly communist east.

Polls suggest the CDU may cede power in Thuringia to the first state coalition headed by the anti-capitalist Left Party. In Brandenburg, Merkel’s party trails the SPD.

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