Merkel takes blame for German vote defeat, but holds course

2016-09-05 21:03
Angela Merkel (AP)

Angela Merkel (AP)

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Berlin — Chancellor Angela Merkel took a share of the responsibility for her conservatives' election defeat in the German state where she has her political base, but strongly defended her migrant policy on Monday even as she vowed to win back voters' trust.

A year before an expected national election, the strong performance on Sunday of a nationalist, anti-immigration party was a jolt that will likely increase tensions in Germany's governing coalition. However, the result didn't pose any immediate threat to the 62-year-old Merkel, Germany's leader since 2005.

Merkel's Christian Democratic Union finished third in Sunday's election for the state legislature in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, behind the three-year-old Alternative for Germany, or AfD. It was held a year to the day after she decided to let in migrants stuck in Hungary, triggering the peak of last year's influx. Merkel conceded the outcome was "almost entirely about federal political issues".

The centre-left Social Democrats, Merkel's partners in Germany's national government, remained the strongest party in Mecklenburg. They have led the regional government for a decade, with the CDU as their junior partners, and can now continue that coalition if they choose.

The region is sparsely populated, but the vote was symbolically significant because Merkel's parliamentary constituency is there. It was the first of five regional ballots before a national election a year away.

New arrivals have slowed drastically after more than 1 million people were registered as asylum-seekers in 2015, and asylum policies have been tightened. Still, New Year's Eve robberies and sexual assaults blamed largely on foreigners, as well as two attacks in July carried out by asylum-seekers and claimed by the Islamic State group, have fed tensions.

"We must all consider how we can now win back trust, me first and foremost," Merkel told reporters on the sidelines of the Group of 20 in China.

"I am the party leader, I am the chancellor — you can't separate those in people's eyes, so I am of course responsible too," for the result, Merkel said. "However, I believe the decisions that have been made were right, and now we must continue working."

Read more on:    angela merkel  |  europe  |  uk  |  germany  |  migrants

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