An anti-refugee, ultra-conservative populist party made huge gains in Germany’s regional elections on Sunday and further cemented its recent surge to the forefront of the nation’s politics.

The controversial Alternative for Germany party, or AfD, secured seats in all three regions that voted and was the second-most-popular party in one of them.

The vote is a big victory for the once-fringe party, reflecting national divisions over how Chancellor Angela Merkel has handled the refugee crisis in the first major elections since she implemented Germany’s open-border policy last year. Alternative for Germany has been steadily rising in polls since then, amid a current of anti-immigration sentiment.

Until recently, Germany had largely escaped the rise of ultra-conservative political parties that have gained support in countries across Europe thanks to anti-European Union and anti-immigration platforms. Now that may no longer be the case, suggesting that the populist rhetoric lifting other nations’ reactionary political movements is also finding a receptive audience in Germany.

This could pose a challenge not only to Germany’s political establishment, but to its status as the European country that has arguably done the most to relieve the immense and ongoing refugee crisis.

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