German state vote offers last test before national election

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An election campaign poster from the Merkel's Christian Democratic Union, CDU, party stands near a road in the federal state Saxony-Anhalt's capital Magdeburg, Germany, Wednesday, June 2, 2021. The state vote on Sunday, June 6, 2021 is German politicians' last major test at the ballot box before the national election in September that will determine who succeeds Chancellor Angela Merkel. The poster shows ruling CDU governor Reiner Haseloff with bis wife Gabriele Haseloff and the slogan: 'Out of love for our homeland'. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

BERLIN – Voters in Saxony-Anhalt went to the polls Sunday to elect a new state assembly in what is seen as the last big test for Germany's political parties before a national election in September.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's center-right Christian Democratic Union won the last election in the sparsely populated state of 2.2 million five years ago. Recent opinion polls show it faces a strong challenge from the far-right Alternative for Germany, which came second in Saxony-Anhalt in 2016.

Incumbent governor Reiner Haseloff, a member of Merkel's CDU, is popular with voters in the state. A strong win would also be seen as a sign that the party's new leader, Armin Laschet, can hope for support from both conservatives and centrists in this fall's national election.

Alternative for Germany has benefited from anti-government sentiment in the state, which until 1990 was part of communist East Germany. The party has lately campaigned strongly against pandemic restrictions, and its election posters urged voters to demonstrate their “resistance” at the ballot box.

The environmentalist Greens, who have been riding high in national polls, aim to reach 10% in Saxony-Anhalt, while the center-left Social Democrats are hoping to stay above that mark. Both have been part of Haseloff's governing coalition for the past five years.

Haseloff has ruled out any cooperation with Alternative for Germany or the ex-communist Left party.

Polls indicate the pro-business Free Democrats may enter the state assembly again after missing out five years ago.