After it stormed into the German Parliament in 2017, the far-right formation Alternative für Deutschland [Alternativa por Alemania, AfD, por sus siglas en alemán] It has lost its status as the main opposition force in this Sunday’s elections, although it still stands as the strongest party in some areas of eastern Germany.
Now what ?: questions and answers about the German elections
The party rose to fame for its anti-immigration campaign following the arrival of an estimated one million refugees in 2015, but in recent times it has focused on criticizing the government’s handling of the pandemic. At the national level, it dropped a little more than 2 points, and obtained 10.3% of the votes.
The formation will lose a preeminence in Parliament that allowed it to go up to the rostrum immediately after the Chancellor’s interventions and that, on many occasions, took the opportunity to turn the parliamentary debate into an angry discussion of trenches. His position will now be filled by the party with the highest percentage of the vote remaining outside the government once the coalition negotiations are completed.
Redoubt in the East
Even so, the AfD consolidated its electoral base this Sunday in the eastern state of Saxony, where it came out again as the strongest party with 24.6% (2.4 points less than in 2017); and for the first time it achieved leadership in Thuringia, with 24%, (1.3 points more).
In Saxony, the far-right formation seems to have eaten away at the conservatives of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), which had terrible results with a fall of almost 10 points and just over 17% of the votes, occupying third place by behind the AfD and the Social Democrats (SPD).
In Thuringia, where the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution has the AfD under scrutiny for its alleged links to right-wing extremism, the CDU fell 12 percentage points to third place (16.9%), behind the SPD.
The AfD was founded in 2013 as a movement against the single European currency, but has since gained strong support among groups that experienced economic difficulties after German reunification. The idea of the “Underprivileged East” has become his central theme.
Analysts suggest that the AfD, which did not improve its results much in other constituencies, has exhausted its chances of growing beyond its stronghold in the former communist East. The argument is that it is perceived as a protest party with little possibility of entering the government, since the rest of the formations rule out the possibility of an alliance with the AfD.
Within the party there are fights on the way to go, but its leadership suggests that the party is open to expanding the potential of the formation by joining the CDU.
At an election day party at a Berlin nightclub, AfD members seemed to celebrate their relative success less than Merkel’s departure, presented as an achievement of their own despite a long-planned decision, and largely by Merkel herself.
“Merkel is gone!” Shouted Alexander Gauland, a former party leader, from the stage. An echo of the song “Merkel raus ” (Merkel out), who used to sing protest groups at electoral events and rallies attended by the outgoing Chancellor. “Getting her out was our goal,” Gauland said to applause from AfD supporters, “and today we have accomplished it.”
With Armin Laschet as a candidate, the conservatives of the CDU have obtained their worst ever result in a federal election. Gauland urged them to reverse their decision to never work with the AfD. He insisted that the CDU would be forced to “change course” if the SPD came to power.
It is an idea that some members of the CDU have toyed with. Sunday proved the failure of another conservative strategy: trying to beat the AfD at its own game by running an arch-conservative candidate in an AfD stronghold to win back voters, a move that, had it succeeded, could have become in a project for the future of the party.
Hans Georg Maaßen, the former head of Germany’s national intelligence service, appeared in Thuringia’s 196 constituency in the hope that his provocative tone and clear right-wing orientation of his campaign would help the CDU win back AfD voters. . But he barely managed the second place and by the hair: he got only one point more than the AfD and almost 12 percentage points less than the SPD candidate, former Olympian Frank Ullrich, who obtained 33.6%.
Another CDU candidate who was unsuccessful in Saxony was Marco Wanderwitz, the Ombudsman for eastern Germany, with a strategy opposed to Maaßen’s. He tried to distance himself from the AfD, but the way he stigmatized supporters of the far-right formation, declaring them “lost to a democratic system” after being “socialized during the dictatorship”, backfired.
Tino Chrupalla, a painter by profession, beat his rival from the CDU and won for the AfD the direct mandate of the Saxon city of Görlitz, on the border with Poland, with 28.6% of the votes. He said he had “punished the CDU” and wanted to become party leader. He has already declared one of his future goals: to fight for “Dexit”, Germany’s exit from the European Union.
Translated by Francisco de Zárate
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