By Stefan J. Bos
Despite surging support for the far-right, German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives and her Social Democrat (SPD) coalition partners managed to remain the most significant political forces in two critical states in eastern Germany.
Official results of Sunday's regional ballot gave the center-right Christian Democrats of Chancellor Merkel some 32 percent of the votes in Saxony.
That was less than in previous elections but still ahead of the 27.5 percent for the far-right Alternative for Germany party, the AfD.
In Brandenburg, the state surrounding Berlin, the center-left SPD won with just over 26 percent, slightly more than the AfD's 23.5 percent.
Observers expect that in both states the parties will now discuss forming new coalitions - perhaps including the Greens - but without the AfD.
However, critics of the government point out that the far-right AfD took around a quarter of the vote between the two states. That makes
the AfD a major political force — particularly in the ex-communist east —. "This is the best outcome in the history of the AFD," said AFD co-chair Alice Weidel. "We became in Saxony and Brandenburg the people's Party. You cannot diminish that outcome," she added.
The AFD success in the states was linked to the massive migration in 2015 when Germany took in more than a million people fleeing war, persecution, and poverty.
But the AfD fell short of beating the traditional parties that have governed those regions since German reunification in 1990.
The outcome was good news for Chancellor Merkel's struggling coalition government in Berlin.
But commentators say it remains uncertain whether her alliance will survive until the next national election, due in 2021, amid ongoing tensions over policy decisions and future strategies.
The future of the government is expected to become more apparent in December when the center-left coalition partner SPD finish choosing a
new leadership from a 17-candidate field and decide on the alliance's future.