Europe-focused correspondent with extensive experience in the Middle East and South Asia
BERLIN – Voters in the southern German heartland of Bavaria deals a stinging blow Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative allies, humbling a party that has come under fire.
Christian Social Union (CSU), sister party to Merkel's own, scrambled politics in a region that has been one of the most politically stable in Europe.
CSU crafting a "laptops to lederhosen" approach that has become supportive of high-tech industry with its embrace of traditional culture. For decades, the CSU came as close as Western Europe gets to a state party.
That changed Sunday, with voters in the affluent region defecting en masse and redistributing their support to both ends of the political spectrum. The result will not end the CSU's 61-year streak in power, but it wants to force it to bargain for partners.
Merkel, whose other coalition partner, the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), is punished on Sunday. It's an earthquake, "said Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff, who leads the German Marshall Fund's office in Berlin.
" It's an earthquake, "said Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff, who leads the German Marshall Fund's office in Berlin , "People are dissatisfied with this so-called grand coalition. This is not the way they want things. "
Projected results showed the CSU falling from nearly 60 years ago to 37 percent. The Green Party surpasses second place, with 18 percent, and the far right The 1965 […] view of the Bavarian Parliament for the first time, with nearly 11 percent.
down on jubilant Greens activists at the party's election night headquarters. There is a similar exuberant celebration among dirndl and lederhosen-clad Afd supporters.
Bavarian State premier Markus Söder telling a quiet gathering of the party faithful that the result "isn 't easy. "
" We will accept it with humility. We want to learn from it. We just need to analyze it precisely, "he said.
Sod tried to make a good face on the outcome, insisting that the CSU wants to continue to lead the state's government, despite this being the second-worst in the party History. The CSU, he said, is "not only the strongest party, but it has received a clear mandate to govern."
The CSU has ruled out a coalition with the AfD, but could strike a deal to govern with one or more smaller conservative parties – or perhaps even with the greens.
The election was closely watched in Germany, and the results appear to be in the country and across the continent. Traditional centrist parties that once flirted with absolute majorities of the vote are withering. Niche and politically extreme parties are gaining as the electorate fragments into ever finer shards.
At the national level, that has been a record seven parties in the parliament since last year's elections, and a deeply dysfunctional governing coalition of three.
The Bavarian result, said Kleine-Brockhoff, confirms long-known struggles for Europe's center-left. But it points to the difficulties ahead for the continent's center-right. "It's true," he said.
Sunday's result is loudly reiterating loudly in Berlin, where it will be seen as yet another blow to Merkel's once-mighty fusion of her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) with his Bavarian Sister.
Since the CDU / CSU faction has been disappointed in last year's vote, Merkel has seen her authority diminish at home and abroad as she struggles to cling to a job she has held for 13 years.  Yet the CSU's Sunday humiliation could make Merkel's life easier in one respect: Interior Minister and CSU Leader Horst Seehofer, Her primary rival within the government, is likely to face calls to resign.
Seehofer has provoked repeated clashes with his boss this year over immigration, and he says he's almost toppled the government this summer. His defiance of Merkel was widely discussed as a deliberate CSU strategy to prove that the party could be just as tough on borders and security as its insurgent rivals in the AfD.
But if that was the aim, the effort fell flat. The CSU failed to back up the right-wing voters, while more centrist and liberal supporters defected to the progressive-minded greens.
"People who voted for them for 60 years are not voting for them anymore. And it's because of their polarizing and inhumane politics, "said Paul Knoblach, a 12th-generation Bavarian farmer.
Knoblach was among the CSU's longtime supporters and volunteers for its campaigns. But on Sunday, at age 64, he ran for the state parliament for the first time.
"When you follow the media, you get." the impression that everyone's turning to the right, to racism. But it's not like this. Normal people just have not been loud enough, "said Eva Peteler, a Bavarian pro-refugee activist. "Now we're getting louder."
The AfD, known for its incendiary anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric, wants to be getting louder in Bavaria. The last time Bavarians voted, in 2013, the party had just launched. Now the AfD wants to be in the parliament, putting it in 15 out of 16 German state legislatures. It's on track to join the state of Hesse.
said AfD leader Alice Weidel, referring to the CSU's rightward Bavarian shift.
The other big loser Sunday, the SPD, saw its vote. Party leader Andrea Nahles blamed "The poor performance of the grand coalition in Berlin."
The national government has been paralyzed this year by infighting between Seehofer and Merkel. The CSU which means split, with Seehofer and Söder often feuding.
In interview with national broadcaster ZDF Sunday night, the Interior Minister was deflected when asked. Said. "As a party leader I bear responsibility for this result," Seehofer said.
Close Merkel ally and CDU general secretary Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, meanwhile, seemed to be chased out of CSU friends for whom the problems with immigration have come to an end.
The CSU, she said, had been "unable" to pay attention to "the very good state of the state's security, the excellent position of its economy and job market."
The result, she said, was "a warning."
Luisa Beck contributed to this report.