The center-left Social Democrats (SPD) are on track for a decisive win in Hamburg, with early results from Sunday’s election indicating that the party will maintain its leadership in the northern German city-state.
Initial projections released by public broadcaster ARD just after polls closed showed the SPD winning 37.5% of the vote.
Support for the environmentalist Greens surged, putting them in second place with 25.5%, followed by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right Christian Democrats (CDU) falling to 11.5%.
The Left party is on track to secure 9% of the vote, followed by the business-friendly Free Democrats (FDP) with 5%.
In the largest upset of the night, the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) could potentially drop out of its first state parliament, with early results showing the party securing 4.7% of the vote — falling just shy of the 5% hurdle to enter parliament.
Voter turnout surged compared to the last election, with local election officials reporting 62% turnout. During the vote in 2015, turnout was 56.5%.
Hamburg votes amid political turmoil
Around 1.3 million people were eligible to vote on Sunday in the first state election since the furor over the ousting of the socialist Left party state premier in the central state of Thuringia, which spurred accusations that left and centrist parties had cooperated for the first time with the AfD.
The vote in Hamburg also follows a right-wing extremist attack in the city of Hanau this week, where a gunman opened fire on two hookah bars, killing nine people — the majority of whom were of foreign descent.
The shooting increased pressure on the anti-immigration AfD, which regularly comes under fire for its xenophobic rhetoric.
Unlike several German states where the AfD is a major political force, the far-right party has just 6% support in Hamburg.
SPD looking for a boost
Farid Müller, the Greens’ lead candidate in the Hamburg-Mitte district, told Politico that public outrage over the ousting of Thuringia’s leftist state premier Bodo Ramelow, with the help of the far-right AfD, swayed voters to back the SPD.
“The situation in the state parliament in Thuringia was, for the whole country, a shock,” said Müller. “In this situation, a lot of people return to the old parties, like the Social Democrats.”
AfD controversy widely felt
A win in the northern German city-state would also likely give the SPD a much-needed boost on the national level, where they have been losing overall support to the Greens. National support for the party is hovering at just 15%.
“We have to hold our ground against the federal trend,” SPD lead candidate and incumbent Hamburg mayor Peter Tschentscher told the news agency AFP ahead of the vote.
The SPD has also garnered local favor by supporting green policies like a proposal to convert a coal power plant to a natural gas plant to cut greenhouse emissions, and by pushing for lower rents and free daycare in the city.
Fifteen parties are competing for the 121 seats in the Hamburg parliament. Polls close at 6 p.m. local time (1700 UTC) on Sunday, with the first results due shortly after.
Other issues may also be top of voters’ minds. This week’s Hanau shootings, which saw gunman attack two hookah bars, leaving nine people, of foreign descent, dead prompted the SPD and Greens to cancel their final campaign events ahead of the vote.
Hamburg also hosted a climate rally on Friday with around 20,000 people in attendance, according to police estimates. Organizers say some 60,000 people turned up, including Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg.
rs, lc/aw (dpa, AFP)
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