New poll shows dissatisfaction with Chancellor’s welcoming stance towards asylum seekers from Middle East and Africa.
An anti-immigrant party is expected to make huge gains in a state election in eastern Germany, a year after Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to open the borders to refugees.
A potential loss in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern to Alternative for Germany (AfD) on Sunday would be a big blow to Merkel, who has her own electoral district in the state.
Polls closed at 1600 GMT and first result estimates will be published shortly. Some 1.3 million people are eligible to vote.
Surveys before the vote showed support for the three-year-old AfD party, which was running for the first time for seats in the regional parliament, running at more than 20 percent. That could put it in a position to overtake Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats from second place, after the Social Democrats.
Sunday’s election was the first of five regional votes before a national election expected in a year.
“The repercusions of this result will resonate across Germany because we know that within 12 months there will be a general election,” Al Jazeera’s Dominic Kane, reporting from Schwerin, the capital of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern region, said.
Earlier this week, Merkel urged the population to reject AfD.
“The more the people who go to vote, the less the percentage won by some parties that, in my view, have no solution for problems and which are built mainly around a protest – often with hate,” she told broadcaster NDR in an interview.
In January, Germany’s interior ministry said that 1.1 million asylum seekers and migrants had entered Europe’s biggest economy in 2015 after fleeing war and poverty in their home countries.
But late last month, the head of Germany’s Federal Office for Migration and Refugees told a German newspaper that the country took in fewer migrants in 2015 than previously thought, because some were registered twice and others had moved on to other destinations.
“We’ll present the exact number soon but it’s certain that less than one million people came to Germany last year,” Frank-Juergen Weise told Bild am Sonntag newspaper.
In the sprawling farming and coastal state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern – Germany’s poorest and least populous – the issue of refugees and integration has also become the deciding factor for one in three voters.
“I am voting AfD. The main reason is the question over asylum-seekers,” a pensioner and former teacher who declined to be named told AFP news agency.
“A million refugees have come here. There is money for them, but no money to bring pensions in the east to the same levels as those of the west,” he said, referring to the lower retirement payments that residents of former Communist states receive compared with those in the west.
AfD leader Frauke Petry released a video on Friday urging voters to “make history not only in the state-region, but the whole of Germany” by backing the party massively in the polls.