Eurosceptic party wins first seats in German state assembly
Merkel’s party clings to power in Saxony but Alternative for Germany (AfD) makes gains
A man walks past a campaign placard of eurosceptic Alternative fuer Deutschland (AfD) party’s Freuke Petry. The slogan reads: “Bailout Funds for Schools, not Banks.”Photograph: Thomas Peter/Reuters
German chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives are poised to cling on to power in today’s election in the east German state of Saxony, but right-leaning eurosceptic rival Alternative for Germany (AfD) won its first seats in a state assembly.
Early results suggest that Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) will win with nearly 40 percent of the vote, which would be their worst election performance in the state they have run since German unification. The hardline Left and Social Democrats (SPD) were projected to take second and third.
The eurosceptic AfD, founded in early 2013 to oppose the euro zone bailouts, is set to beat all forecasts with 10 percent of the vote in what is the first of three eastern elections in a fortnight that could see the party establish itself as a force in German politics.
“The AfD has finally arrived on the German party landscape,” said Bernd Lucke, under whose leadership the AfD won seats in the European Parliament in May.
In Saxony it looked likely to overtake established parties such as the Greens and Free Democrats (FDP) - who dropped out of the Landtag state assembly in Dresden - and was on course for nearly as many seats as the SPD, Germany’s oldest political party.
CDU state premier Stanislaw Tillich would need a new partner to replace the FDP and is likely to form a coalition with the SPD, who are Merkel’s junior partners in the federal government. Opinion polls show that would be the most popular option.
However, speculation that Mr Tillich could team up with the AfD continued unabated despite the CDU’s attempts to demonise it as a fringe movement that flirts with the far right.
The AfD’s success in Saxony will start a broader debate in the CDU about future cooperation with a party that was founded less than two years ago but is evolving rapidly from a single-issue eurosceptic movement into a law-and-order party that could chip away at Merkel’s conservative hegemony.
It won entry into the European Parliament in May and now stands a chance of winning seats in two more eastern states, Thuringia and Brandenburg, on September 14th.
Tail Wind for AFD
“The AfD has arrived. It has arrived in Saxony and, much more importantly, it has arrived in Germany, ” said Frauke Petry, the 39-year-old businesswoman who headed the AfD’s campaign, adding that there is now a “tailwind” behind the party in the other states.
Saxony, like much of the former German Democratic Republic (GDR), has struggled to catch up since unification. Incomes are lower, unemployment is higher - beyond the bright spots around Dresden and Leipzig - and polls say people are unhappier.
Voters in Saxony, a state of four million people next to Poland and the Czech Republic, are unsettled by cross-border theft of farm machinery and traffic in the drug crystal methamphetamine.
Boosting the state police and improving education were hot issues in an election where the far-right German National Democrat (NPD) party is uncertain of reaching the 5 percent threshold required to keep it in the assembly.
In contrast to Saxony, Dr Merkel’s CDU risks being booted out of office in Thuringia, despite a lead in opinion polls.
In what would be a first at state level, the Left - which counts on a core of left-wing support in the former GDR - could seize control of the government of Thuringia in Erfurt if they can convince the SPD to be junior coalition partners.
That would fuel speculation that the SPD could consider teaming up with the Left at the federal level for the first time to challenge 60-year-old Merkel in the 2017 national elections.
In the third regional election, in the state of Brandenburg which surrounds Berlin, the SPD is expected to keep power at the head of a coalition with the Left.
The CDU would not look kindly on its SPD partners in Berlin giving the Left a leg-up to power in Thuringia, and the CDU’s deputy leader Peter Tauber said such a move would complicate cooperation between the two parties in the federal government.