Despite the fact that there appeared to be an actual clown running for mayor, the joke in Sunday’s election here appears to have been on Angela Merkel’s center right party.
Though not necessarily on her open-arms refugee policy.
At some level, every vote cast in German elections these days has something to do with the influx of a million refugees in the past year. But Sunday’s poor showing by Merkel’s center-right party, the Christian Democrats, isn’t likely to be a setback for refugee resettlement, at least not in the traditionally liberal capital.
While it’s true the new right Alternative for Germany party rose on an anti-immigrant platform from not existing in the last election to 14 percent of the vote in its first Berlin election, 70 percent of Sunday’s vote went for parties that back Merkel’s welcoming approach.
The big winners were the traditional also-rans of German politics, die Linke, or the left, the remnant of the old East German communist party, and the environmentalist Green Party. Die Linke won 15.7 percent of the vote – less than two points behind the 17.5 percent of Merkel’s Christian Democrats – and the Greens won another 15 percent.
Added to the 22 percent won by the Social Democrats, the traditional mainstream foes of the Christian Democrats, that outcome likely assures a left-leaning coalition government that will continue to support Merkel’s refugee policy.
The Berlin elections were the second major look at the mood of German voters. In recent elections in the German state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, the anti-refugee vote overwhelmed the Christian Democrats in Merkel’s home state.
The votes are not a direct reflection upon Merkel. She runs in national elections, scheduled for September next year. The campaign, however, did indicate uncertainty about the future of the political party that has dominated Germany for the past decade.
In the beginning of the campaign, the Christian Democrats reflected a Merkel-esque “put government in trustworthy hands” campaign. Then, as polls indicated that the anti-immigrant Alternative party was making gains among conservative voters, the Christian Democrats shifted to promises of putting more police on the streets.
The Christian Democrats’ vote percentage ended up almost 6 percent below their showing in the last city-state elections. The Social Democrats, while still the strongest party in Berlin, lost even more support, showing a 7 percent falloff.
One sure loser in Sunday’s vote: the Pirate Party. The party, known for its mocking approach to politics, didn’t win enough votes to qualify for seats in the Berlin parliament. The party had chosen a man dressed as a clown as the party’s symbol in this campaign. But the protest vote that normally could be counted on went elsewhere, a reflection that voters were more focused on issues, particularly refugee policy, in these elections.
Matthew Schofield: @mattschodcnews