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Brandeburg State Secretary for the Interior and Local Government Katrin Lange (SPD) and CDU Brandenburg State Chairman Ingo Senftleben leave exploratory coalition talks. Photo: Monika Skolimowska/picture alliance via Getty Images

The results of two state elections in the former East Germany on Sunday cast a troublesome picture for the region — confirming fatigue with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Grand Coalition government in Berlin and signaling further political fragmentation.

The big picture: Both major parties — the center-right Christian Democrats (CDU) and the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) — lost voters but managed to hold the line against the far-right, xenophobic Alternative for Germany (AfD) party. They will now seek to form a majority and build a coalition with parties other than the AfD, making the right-wing populists the largest opposition party in Brandenburg and Saxony.

Details: Since German reunification in 1990, the CDU has led the state of Saxony while the SPD has reigned in Brandenburg. Each party eked out a victory in its respective stronghold, of 32% and 26%, thanks to strong retail politicking by local candidates.

  • Yes, but: The AfD came in a close second, with almost a third of the vote in Saxony and close to a quarter in Brandenburg.

Where it stands: The AfD's ascendance is bringing together unexpected political bedfellows.

  • Brandenburg and Saxony will likely cobble together 3-party governments, as is now the case in nearly a third of Germany’s federal states.
  • When Merkel's government comes to an end in 2021, Berlin might have to make room for 3 parties in the next Cabinet.

Between the lines: The AfD was on the wane until the 2015 migration crisis paved its way into the federal Parliament in 2017 with 12.6% of the vote. It has hit a ceiling of 14% nationwide, but Sunday’s strong results show the AfD to be a major party in the former East.

  • Most AfD voters view the party as a channel for protest. Pre-election polls show that 59% of voters in Brandenburg and 66% in Saxony feel like second-class citizens.
  • The AfD has not only pulled in CDU and SPD voters but also mobilized non-voters. Close to 40% of this weekend's AfD voters stayed home 5 years ago.
  • The LEFT party, tied to the former communists in the German Democratic Republic (GDR), used to be the protest party for disaffected voters in the East, but lost approximately 8 percentage points in each state.

Sudha David-Wilp is a senior transatlantic fellow and deputy director of the German Marshall Fund’s Berlin office.

Go deeper

Updated 15 mins ago - Science

Blizzard likely to hit New England this weekend as "bomb cyclone" forms

Computer model projection of the precipitation and wind field from the weekend storm in the Northeast. (Earth.nullschool.net)

A powerful blizzard is likely to strike parts of New England and the Mid-Atlantic beginning Friday and lasting into the weekend, with snow totals that are likely to be measured in feet.

The big picture: The joining of weather systems embedded in both the polar, or northern branch, of the jet stream and the southern branch is projected to create a bomb cyclone. Such storms undergo a process known as bombogenesis, with their minimum central air pressure readings plunging at least 24 millibars in 24 hours.

Schumer vows to confirm Breyer replacement "with all deliberate speed"

Chuck Schumer. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer responded Wednesday to reports that Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer will retire, commending his time on the bench and promising to confirm President Biden's nominated replacement "with all deliberate speed."

Why it matters: The opportunity to appoint a new Supreme Court justice will be one of the longest-lasting pieces of Biden's legacy and could energize Democrats ahead of the midterms.

58 mins ago - World

Scoop: Israel's "top priority" mission to discredit UN probe

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett addresses the UN. Photo: John Minchillo/Pool via Getty

Israel is planning a campaign to discredit a UN commission formed to investigate the violence in Gaza last May and the root causes of the protracted conflict in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, according to an Israeli Foreign Ministry cable seen by Axios.

Why it matters: Israeli officials say they are highly concerned that the commission’s report will refer to Israel as an "Apartheid state" and that its findings could damage Israel's reputation, particularly among progressives in the West. The report is expected in June.