German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s allies have blamed her policies for the “disastrous” defeat in a regional election, describing her approach to the refugee crisis as a major reason.
On Sunday, Merkel’s Christian Democratic Party (CDU) was defeated by the anti-refugee party, Alternative for Germany (AfD), in Merkel’s home state of Mecklenburg-West Pomerania.
The CDU gained 19 percent of the vote, down from 23 percent in 2011. The AfD, which campaigned hard before elections against Merkel’s so-called open-door policy in dealing with refugees, won 21 percent in their first election in the state.
Horst Seehofer, the leader of the Christian Social Union (CSU) and Bavarian state premier, described the situation as “highly threatening for the union,” saying the people do not support “this Berlin policy.”
The CSU forms a union with the CDU in the Bundestag.
Seehofer, a long-time critic of Merkel’s refugee policy, said that confidence in the government of Merkel “is dwindling rapidly.”
“People just don’t understand how policy is made in Germany,” he added.
Meanwhile, Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, the leader of Social Democratic Party (SPD), also pointed to his party’s increasing distance from Merkel accusing the chancellor and her party of being too slow to respond to the refugee crisis.
“We have wasted a great deal of time with unnecessary arguments,” he said, arguing that Merkel had been guilty of “simply repeating ‘we will manage it’ without doing it as well.”
The center-left Social Democrats are Merkel’s partners in Germany’s national government.
AfD co-chief, Beatrix von Storch, also described the results as “the beginning of the end of the Merkel era.”
Merkel has been under fire at home since last year, when she opened the country’s borders to thousands of refugees, mostly fleeing violence in Middle Eastern and African states.
The chancellor, who was attending a G20 summit in China, once again strongly defended her policy towards the refugee crisis on Monday, saying, “I consider the fundamental decisions as right.”
Merkel said she was "deeply dissatisfied with the outcome of the election,” but pledged to “win back trust” of voters.
She added that there is much to be done about the refugees, including the repatriation of those denied asylum in her country.
Almost 1.1 million refugees, most of whom were fleeing war and violence in Iraq and Syria, arrived in Germany in 2015. Merkel had formerly pledged not to put quotas on the number of refugees entering her county.
Her Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere, however, said last week that this year, at least 100,000 refugees need to be deported. He said 21,000 refugees had been repatriated last year and 35,000 in the first seven months of this year.
Merkel, who has been in office for 11 years, now considers running for another term next year. Her critics say the administration has not made sufficient contribution to efforts for ending the crises in Syria and Iraq, which are among the main causes of the refugee influx in Europe.