24th Mar 2018

Big gains for German anti-immigration party

  • AfD protesters hold a sign saying "Merkel should go" in November in Mainz, the capital of Rhineland-Palatinate, where the AfD won 12.6 percent (Photo: Franz Ferdinand Photography)

The right-wing anti-immigration party Alternative for Germany (AfD) made huge gains in elections in three German states on Sunday (13 March), a setback for chancellor Angela Merkel's party.

Many Germans who voted for AfD had previously not voted or came from Merkel's CDU, according to figures compiled by German paper Die Welt.

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  • Germany's Green party did well in Baden-Wuerttemberg, winning first place (Photo: Peter Teffer)

AfD won 15.1 percent of the votes in the largest state that was up for grabs, south-western Baden-Wuerttemberg, where the Green party became the biggest with 30.3 percent. Merkel's CDU fell from 39 percent to 27 percent there.

In Saxony-Anhalt, the AfD became the second-largest party with 24.2 percent, behind the CDU (29.8 percent).

In Rhineland-Palatinate, the centre-left social-democrat party SPD slightly gained some votes and kept its lead, climbing from 35.7 percent to 36.2 percent. AfD received 12.6 percent of the votes there.

AfD has been critical of Merkel's decision to welcome refugees on a large scale.

“People are no longer expecting any solutions from the large people's parties, and the AfD has proposed solutions on many areas since 2013,” AfD leader Frauke Petry told the Deutsche Welle broadcaster.

It is unlikely that AfD will join the coalition governments in any of the three states, but the message that a significant portion of the electorate is unhappy with how the federal government has handled the refugee crisis will have resonated in the chancellor's office in Berlin.

Merkel is due to travel to Brussels for another summit on migration later this week.

Perhaps one part of the result can give her a small boost: the victory of the Green party in Baden-Wuerttemberg. Its prime minister Wilfried Kretschmann is a supporter of Merkel's welcoming policy toward refugees.

The German press has immediately begun to try to explain what happened on Sunday.

According to Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Sunday's elections have changed Germany.

“The old practices, which for decades determined the federal republic's political landscape, no longer apply. What was certain, is today uncertain. What was once held for impossible, is possible,” the paper wrote.

However, while the political class may act shocked by the rise of the populist anti-immigration party, it is a rise which has been seen all over western Europe.

There is a group that feels more at home with a party to the right of CDU, which since World War II has been the most right-wing major party in the country.

But as Die Zeit commentator Bernd Ulrich pointed out, German people chose “the path of democracy” to express their discontent.

Voter turnout went up substantially: from 66.3 percent to 72 percent in Baden-Wuerttemberg, from 51.2 to 63 percent in Saxony-Anhalt, and from 61.8 to 71.5 percent in Rhineland-Palatinate.

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