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Germans to vote in general elections on September 24

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Chancellor Angela Merkel (shown) seeks a fourth term in office in September, when Germans are due to vote in general elections. (Photo by AFP)

Berlin sets the date for parliamentary elections as the Alternative for Germany (AfD) seeks to become the country's first post-war populist party in the Bundestag lower house of parliament.

The right-left coalition government, led by Chancellor Angela Merkel, on Wednesday declared September 24 as the date for the vote.

The 62-year-old chancellor is expected to face the toughest campaign as she seeks a fourth term in office. Merkel's decision to let in more than one million asylum seekers since 2015 has triggered public anger, especially among nationalist groups.

The most fearful of all for Merkel has been the rise of the AfD, which has largely capitalized on security issues caused by refugees in Germany over the past two years, blaming Merkel and her party for all of those problems.

Supporters of Germany's anti-immigration party Alternative for Germany (AfD) hold placards to demonstrate in Berlin against Chancellor Angela Merkel's refugee policy. (Photo by Reuters)

Polls suggest that Merkel's conservative Christian Union bloc (CDU/CSU) still tops the list of the strongest political forces in Germany, owing that mainly to the growing public fear about the rise of a far-right, populist government, as it has been the case on both sides of the Atlantic.

According to a poll conducted from January 9 to January 13 among a representative sample of 2,053 eligible voters, the CDU/CSU stands at 38 percent, followed in distant second by the Social Democrats (SPD) with 21 percent. The SPD represents the current junior partners in Merkel's so-called grand coalition government and has rarely criticized Merkel's open-door policy vis-à-vis refugees.

The Forsa opinion research institute, which conducted the poll, said on Wednesday that the AfD’s base of support was down to 11 percent from figure 12 that it recorded last week.

Forsa's head, Manfred Guellner, said a terrorist attack carried out by a rejected asylum seeker in the capital, Berlin, during the Christmas period had failed to boost support for the AfD.

Guellner said in a statement that the security debate after the terrorist attack was "running high" but the AfD was "unable to capitalize on it."

The AfD, Guellner added, "is actually losing support while the CDU/CSU and the SPD are stabilizing."

Some observers say the result of the presidential election in the United States and Britain's decision in June to leave the European Union have also cemented Merkel's position as the sole leader who could guarantee stability in Germany and Europe, especially as uncertainty grows over what relations would look like when US President-elect Donald Trump takes office.

The planned September elections in Germany will come a few months after presidential elections in France, where speculations are that a populist government could take the lead if it comes out victorious from the April and May polls.

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