Angela Merkel.jpg
German Chancellor Angela Merkel of the Christian Democratic Union of Germany(CDU) at a CDU election rally with party members in Zingst, Germany, 11 July 2016.
Photograph: EPA/JENS BUETTNER

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic party (CDU) has headed off a challenge from a right-wing populist party, winning convincingly in local elections in Lower Saxony.

The CDU received 34.4 per cent of votes, ahead of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) with 31.2 per cent and the Greens with 10.9 per cent, the state's electoral commission announced Monday.

The right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) party received just 7.8 per cent in Sunday's poll, less than the 12 per cent that had been predicted, although it attained double-digit results in some areas.

The vote was a key test for Merkel after her party was beaten into third place in last weekend's elections in the eastern state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern following a big swing to the anti-immigration AfD.

Merkel has faced criticism over her refugee policy, which saw the country accept more than one million refugees last year.

The Lower Saxony vote represented a swing of 2.6 per cent against the CDU since the last municipal elections in the state in 2011.

But the swing was even bigger against the SPD, which currently heads up a state coalition government under Premier Stephan Weil with the enviromentalist Greens.

Both parties suffered a loss in support of over 3 per cent.  

The city state of Berlin goes to the polls next weekend. Polls show the SPD as remaining the biggest party in the Berlin legislature but with AfD scoring up to 15 per cent of the vote.

The CDU seized on the results in Lower Saxony as a positive signal for the party's success at the next elections in the state set down for 2018.

"This is a good starting point for the next state election campaign in Lower Saxony," said CDU national secretary peter Tauber.

The Free Democratic Party and the Left Party received 4.8 and 3.3 per cent respectively in Sunday's election.

A total of 22 parties stood for the 29,116 council seats that were up for grabs in the poll and voter turnout was 55.5 per cent, higher than the 52.5 per cent recorded five years ago.

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