Merkel panic: Eurosceptics tipped to win crunch election that could rock Germany

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The outgoing German Chancellor’s centre-right outfit is up against the Alternative for Germany in a battle that could define her departure from the top job after 16 years. On Sunday, voters in the eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt go to the polls in the last regional ballot ahead of the national election. Armin Laschet, the CDU’s candidate for chancellor, has conceded there’s “a lot at stake” with his party and the right-wing AfD neck and neck to win control of the state.

The eurosceptic challengers are hoping to build support and take advantage of popular anger over the Covid lockdown measures.

The AfD is forecast to gain votes at the centre-right’s expense this time and could even win control of a state for the first time ever.

Party candidate Markus Motschmann believes the coronavirus lockdown has been a “test run” for dictatorship.

The doctor argued the measures, including driving bans and night-time curfews, will soon be adopted to tackle issues like climate change.

“Corona was a blueprint,” he told the FT.

“It’s the gateway to tyranny.”

And it’s the reverberating anger of the coronavirus lockdown that has CDU candidates fearing they are facing an uphill battle to win the regional poll.

Tim Tessmann, a social worker who is standing in Haldensleben, said: “People are very critical of the lockdown measures and the slow pace of vaccinations… They’re fed up with promises that haven’t been kept.”

The AfD is hoping to cash in on the discontent in Saxony-Anhalt.

The state has long been a happy hunting ground for the eurosceptic movement.

At the height of the EU’s migration crisis five years ago, the party scored 24.3 percent of the vote, one of its best-ever results.

And now some polls even suggest it could do even better on Sunday.

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In 2016, the CDU had to rely on a cumbersome coalition with the Greens and Social Democrats to remain in power in Saxony-Anhalt.

It was a bitter pill to swallow for the party’s supporters in the region, who are considered far more conservatives than their allies in western Germany.

Mr Laschet this week has insisted he will not get into bed with the AfD in a similar coalition agreement.

He told German radio: “We won’t talk to them, we won’t co-operate with them and we won’t form coalitions with them.”

But some experts expect this anti-AfD attitude to eventually fall away as Germany’s ruling party comes under more electoral pressure.

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Michael Kraske, an expert on the German far-right, said: “My impression is that if the AfD becomes really strong, the policy will hit the skis.”

AfD candidate Mr Motschmann claimed a growing amount of CDU loyalists would sooner be in a coalition with his party than the Greens or Social Democrats/

“A lot of Christian Democrats would much prefer a coalition with the AfD to one with the Greens and SPD,” he said.

The CDU last year soared in the poll as a reward for Mrs Merkel’s handling of the first phase of the pandemic.

But support has since dwindled because of a flawed vaccination campaign and corruption scandals involving MPs.

Despite the AfD suffering its own tumultuous year, polls suggest the party could secure as much as a quarter of the vote on Sunday.

Mr Kraske said: “It’s quite conceivable that, in terms of votes cast, it will emerge from this election as the winner.”

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