Merkel.jpg
Photograph: EPA/MICHAEL KAPPELER

Turnout was high Sunday as voters in three German states participated in elections in three states, a key chance for about 13 million Germans to hand down their verdict on Chancellor Angela Merkel's handling of the refugee crisis.

Although Merkel's name is on none of the ballots, the poll will be a chance for voters to show their feelings about her insistence on keeping German borders open despite the arrival of about 1 million asylum seekers in 2015 by choosing to back her Christian Democrats (CDU) or opting for opposing groups.

The influx of people has led many to worry about the ability of German society to absorb so many, as well as the ability of the German economy to keep humming along if the newcomers require large amounts of assistance. The dynamic has seen many traditional voters from the CDU shifting to the right to support the Alternative for Germany (AfD).

But the pain is being felt on both sides of the political spectrum, with the centre-right Social Democrats (SPD) also seeing supporters fleeing to the AfD camp.

Initial results had voter turnout higher than in previous polls in the region.

By the end of morning, 44 per cent of voters has cast their in ballots by postal vote in the western state of Rhineland-Palatinate, where the SPD are neck-and-neck race with Merkel's conservative CDU, state election officials said.

Voter turnout was also up on the last elections in 2011 in the neighbouring state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, as well as in Saxony-Anhalt in the east.

By midday, 25 per cent of voters had cast their ballots in the economically hard-pressed Saxony-Anhalt, where the right-wing populist AfD had made a strong showing in opinion polls in the run-up to the election, the state statistics office said.

This was higher than the 19.8 per cent who had voted by the same time in the election five years ago.

The polls released ahead of Sunday's election also point to the anti-foreigner AfD surging in the state legislatures in Baden-Wuerttemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate.

Turnout came in more than in the 2011 election in large cities in the wealthy state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, which is home to some of Germany's leading corporate brands such as Mercedes-Benz, Hugo Boss and Porsche, officials said.

Baden-Wuerttemberg's popular Green Party Premier Winfried Kretschmann hopes the election will result in Greens for the first time becoming the biggest party in a German parliament.

However, election researchers cautioned about drawing conclusions from the early voter turnover figures.

Latest news

EU calls on Germany to reduce large current account surplus

The European Commission on Wednesday called on Germany, the bloc's biggest economy, to reduce its large current account surplus and focus on boosting domestic consumption.

Germans' demand for Croatian destinations on steady rise

Bookings for Croatia's destinations in some regions of Bavaria have been rising and some statistics show a 30% increase year-on-year, according to the preliminary information from the "f.re.e." fair for leisure and travel, which opened in Munich on Wednesday and runs through Sunday.

Bosnia's counsel travels to The Hague to apply for review of genocide judgement against Serbia

Bosnia and Herzegovina's legal representative before the International Court of Justice (ICJ), Sakib Softic, left for The Hague on Wednesday and is expected to submit a request on Friday for a review of an ICJ judgement delivered in 2007 acquitting the former Social Republic of Yugoslavia, present-day Serbia as its successor, of genocide in Srebrenica.

Serbian, Slovenian FMs says two countries' relations good, economic cooperation on rise

Relations between Slovenia and Serbia are good, the two countries have a number of common interests and their trade, which last year amounted to EUR 1 billion, is on the rise, Slovenian and Serbian Foreign Minister Karl Erjavec and Ivica Dacic respectively, said after their talks in Ljubljana on Wednesday.

Congo to investigate alleged massacre by army

The Congolese government Wednesday pledged to investigate an alleged massacre of unarmed men and women by the army, after initially dismissing a video claiming to show it as a fake.

Global treaty to remove customs bureaucracy comes into force

An international pact that could boost global trade by up to 1 trillion dollars per year entered into force on Wednesday, the World Trade Organization (WTO) announced in Geneva.

EU seeks to fine Austria for misrepresenting debt data

The European Commission was seeking to slap a fine of close to 30 million euros (31.5 million dollars) on Austria after one of its states reported incorrect debt data to the EU's statistical office, EU Commissioner Marianne Thyssen said Wednesday.

Merkel cabinet OKs new rules easing deportation of asylum seekers

The cabinet of German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday agreed a package of measures to ease the deportation of criminal asylum seekers.

Croatian crime victims still not exercising rights enjoyed by victims in other EU countries

Victims of crime in Croatia still cannot exercise the rights exercised by victims of crime in other EU member-countries, and the biggest problem is that the national legislation still does not incorporate the EU directive on the protection of victims of crime, heard a conference held in Zagreb on Wednesday on the occasion of the European Day for Victims of Crime.

Russia condemns 'fake' Western news in hall of shame on state website

Russia's Foreign Ministry introduced a new section of its website on Wednesday to condemn Western news reports with a big red stamp: "FAKE."

Report: Le Pen aides held for questioning on European Parliament jobs

Two key aides to Marine Le Pen, the far-right candidate for the French presidency, have been held for questioning by police, the Agence France Presse news agency reported on Wednesday.

More than 400 exhibitors gather for boat, gastronomy shows in Zagreb

Slightly more than 400 exhibitors will present their products and services at the 26th International Boat Show and the 9th international gastronomy, hotel and catering equipment and catering show Hotel&Gastroteh, which opened at the Zagreb Trade Fair Centre on Wednesday.