Berlin (CNSNews.com) – As two regional elections loom in Germany, the Alternative for Deutschland (AfD) has again increased traction in polls, furthering expectations the far-right, anti-Islam party will succeed in entering 10 of 16 state parliaments.
On September 4, a new parliament will be elected in Mecklenburg-West Pomerania in the far north-east, while Berlin will select a new House of Representatives two weeks later.
Rising support for the party comes from a growing number of Germans dissatisfied with the large influx of some one million refugees, a year after Chancellor Angela Merkel announced Germany would have an open-door migrant policy.
A nationwide poll showed support for Merkel’s conservatives, still the biggest group, has fallen to 33 percent, down eight points from a year ago. The AfD rose two points to 12 percent, their second-highest level this year.
In Mecklenburg-West Pomerania, which is also Merkel’s home region, a survey last Friday by German ZDF public television found her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) was at 22 percent, closely trailed by the AfD at 21 percent.
The polls reinforce expectations that the AfD will enter another state parliament. It currently has footholds in half of the 16 German regional states, and success in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and Berlin would raise the number to 10.
Manfred Güllner, head of polling institute Forsa, predicted the deciding moment would be next May, when the AfD can contest the race for North Rhine-Westphalia’s regional assembly in Düsseldorf.
Success in that western state, said Güllner, would enable the AfD to enter the Bundestag, Germany’s federal parliament.
The AfD’s advance is becoming a crucial concern for Merkel as next year’s federal elections inch closer. The party has leveraged Merkel’s controversial refugee policy, using it as a platform for its anti-immigrant policy stances.
The changes highlight growing dissatisfaction with Merkel, after a decade of being chancellor, since her decision to adopt an open-door refugee policy, which ranks only second to unemployment as the most election-critical topics in the north.
Merkel worked to stem the tide of migrants by brokering an E.U. deal with Turkey. However, this only prompted further pressure over a partnership that was perceived as subject to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s authoritarian policies, which many view as at odds with German and European values.
More devastating were a series of attacks in Germany, several of which were linked to Islamic extremists. A survey for public broadcaster ARD showed support for Merkel dropped 12 points after the attacks.
However, Merkel’s party faces challenges not just from votes lost to the AfD, but even from its coalition partner, the Christian Social Union (CSU), which has been critical of her open door policy.
The threat of radicalization among disaffected youths in Germany’s large migrant population is also a growing source of concern. Stephan Mayer, security spokesman for the CSU recently advocated for stricter residency requirements.
“We should deport more rigorously, like Bavaria, which is a real role model for the other states,” he said.
Germany has so far deported about 16,000 migrants whose asylum applications had been rejected, but around 163,000 are being allowed to stay for “humanitarian reasons.”
Amid these pressures, Merkel on Thursday encouraged the authorities to accelerate the deportation process. “The most important thing in the coming months is repatriation, repatriation and once more, repatriation,” Reuters quoted her as saying.
A week earlier, in response to public pressure, the government flirted with the idea of a partial burka ban. A survey last week by Infratest dimap revealed 51 percent of respondents were in favor of banning the burka entirely.
Despite the AfD’s growing popularity, alleged ties with the neo-Nazi-linked National Democratic Party (NPD) have raised alarms.
AfD co-chairman Jörg Meuthen told Deutschlandfunk radio that the party does not associate with the NPD, but would not be opposed to “sensible” proposals from it – or even from the post-communist Left party.
Sebastian Wippel, an AfD lawmaker, caused controversy when he blamed the attacks on Germany’s acceptance of asylum seekers, and added that it was “regrettable” the violence did not reach leading politicians such as Merkel.
Lorenz Caffier, Merkel’s leading candidate in Mecklenburg-West Pomerania, warned that if the AfD overtook the established parties in Sunday’s poll it would be a “terrible signal” for Germany.
Meanwhile Merkel has refused to say whether she will run as candidate for chancellor in next year’s general election, delaying her decision until tensions between her CDU and its CSU sister party are resolved.
During a television interview on Sunday, she said she would make her position known “at the appropriate time.”