Merkel's party punished in state vote, far-right AfD faces parliament exit

BERLIN (Reuters) – Voters in the German city of Hamburg punished Angela Merkel’s conservatives on Sunday, pushing them into third place in their first electoral test since the chancellor’s protegee gave up her hopes of taking the top job.

Exit polls also indicated that four days after a racist gunman killed 11 people in the western town of Hanau, the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) would be ejected from the Hamburg parliament, falling just short of the 5% threshold needed.

“Nazis out,” shouted supporters of the victorious Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens as they celebrated in the north German city.

Exit polls for public broadcaster ZDF put the SPD, who share power with the conservatives at the federal level, at 38%, down about 7 points from 2015 but still the strongest party in Hamburg, traditionally a center-left stronghold.

Facing a backlash over a leadership crisis and an outcry over a local branch of the CDU in eastern Germany siding with the AfD, Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) scored just 11%, their worst ever result in Hamburg.

“For us at the CDU, this is a bitter election result,” said the CDU premier of the state of Schleswig Holstein, Daniel Guenther.

Two weeks ago, CDU leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer plunged the party into chaos by saying she would stand aside, blowing open the race to succeed the chancellor.

Merkel, chancellor for almost 15 years, has said she will not run again in the next federal election, due by October 2021.

The Greens were the biggest winners, reflecting their strength at the national level, due mainly to growing fears about climate change. They roughly doubled their vote to 25.5%.

The results point to a continuation of the ruling coalition of the SPD and Greens in Hamburg.

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