Anti-euro party guns for first seats in west German state

15th February 2015, Comments 0 comments

Germany's populist anti-euro AfD party hoped to capture its first seats in a western state legislature in an election Sunday in the country's second city of Hamburg.

Around 1.3 million voters were called to the polls in the northern port city, which is also one of Germany's 16 federal states.

Hamburg is a stronghold of the centre-left Social Democrats and Mayor Olaf Scholz, 56, has held an absolute majority since 2011.

The latest polls indicated he could count on 47 percent of the vote.

Scholz has said that if he fails to bring home an absolute majority again, he will seek a coalition with the ecologist Greens.

The AfD, which stands for Alternative for Germany, hopes to capitalise on renewed fears of turmoil in the eurozone triggered by a new left-wing Greek government demanding an end to austerity and easier terms for its towering debt.

AfD leader Bernd Lucke, a former economics professor at Hamburg University, has steered his party to around five percent support, the hurdle to representation in the state parliament.

The AfD, which has been rocked by leadership battles and internal strife, attempted to paper over the cracks at a party congress late last month.

"We put a difficult chapter of our party history behind us," Lucke told reporters last week, insisting it had not cost the AfD support.

"We did not see a wave of people quitting the party."

Preliminary estimates are expected immediately after the polls close at 1700 GMT.

The AfD won seats in three eastern states last year, each time garnering about 10 percent of the vote.

After its success in relatively poor regions marked by high unemployment, a win in prosperous Hamburg would confirm the AfD's standing as a viable opposition party to the right of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats.

However it does not appear to pose a real threat to her at this stage.

At the national level, the AfD is polling at about six percent while Merkel enjoys record personal popularity ratings.

Her conservatives have around 42 percent support, far ahead of the Social Democrats, Merkel's partners in her "grand coalition" government, with about 23 percent.


© 2015 AFP

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