Germany faces political ‘shake-up’ after state elections

The so-called “Super Sunday” election was super only for the right-wing AfD

Frauke Petry, chairwoman of the anti-immigration party Alternative for Germany (AfD) is pictured through a broken window after first exit polls in three regional state elections at the AfD party’s election night party in Berlin, Germany yesterday. Photograph: Reuters/Fabrizio Bensch

Frauke Petry, chairwoman of the anti-immigration party Alternative for Germany (AfD) is pictured through a broken window after first exit polls in three regional state elections at the AfD party’s election night party in Berlin, Germany yesterday. Photograph: Reuters/Fabrizio Bensch

 

Germany is facing a “complete shake-up” of its political landscape, senior allies of chancellor Angela Merkel have said, after migration concerns handed double-digit wins to the right- wing populist Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party in three regional polls.

With one in five Germans called to the polls, the so-called “Super Sunday” election was super only for the AfD. It now sits in half of Germany’s 16 state parliaments, while voters inflicted severe losses on Dr Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

Exit polls gave double-digit results to the AfD, allowing it to enter its first western state parliaments in Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate with 12.5 and 11 per cent.

In the eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt, exit polls gave the party up to 24 per cent – the highest result for a new party in postwar German history.

“We have fundamental problems in Germany, that’s what lead to this result,” said AfD co-leader Frauke Petry. “We are a fresh opposition force . . . not just a protest party. Protest is the beginning of a new politics, as people turn away from parties they don’t trust.”

Migration issue

All three outgoing state coalitions – various combinations of CDU, Greens and Social Democrats (SPD) – will struggle to return to power.

Sunday’s elections were also the first big electoral test of Dr Merkel’s “we can manage this” migration policy, which has seen over one million asylum applications filed in the last year.

Particularly painful for the chancellor was her CDU’s result in the prosperous southwestern state of Baden-Württemberg.

Once a CDU heartland, projections saw the party down almost 12 points to less than 28 per cent, its worst result there since 1952.

In the other states it was down about three points each.

Ahead of the elections, Dr Merkel insisted that AfD support at state level was a diffuse protest vote, with limited relevance for federal politics. But her officials admitted last night that the AfD gains cast “a lot of shadow” over the chancellor’s migration strategy.

Struggling CDU regional leaders were quick to vent their frustration with their leader last night.

Dr Reiner Haseloff, CDU leader in Saxony-Anhalt, warned that yesterday’s AfD wins marked a “complete shake-up” of the political landscape, something that demanded rapid answers on migration.

At this morning’s CDU post-mortem in Berlin, CDU regional leaders will step up pressure on Dr Merkel to return from Brussels this week with her long-promised migrant burden-sharing deal with other EU countries and Turkey.

Last night SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel, Dr Merkel’s junior coalition partner in Berlin, agreed with the chancellor’s party critics, saying the AfD wins marked a “break” in German politics.

“The democratic middle ground has not grown but shrunk, and we have to take that seriously,” he said.

Mr Gabriel’s SPD was the other big loser of the elections, with minimal gains in Rhineland-Palatinate overshadowed by a dramatic collapse in support of about 10 points each in the two other states.

Greens out?

That dampened the victory of state premier Winifried Kretschmann, who lead his Green Party to a triumphant 30.5 per cent – the highest ever regional result for his party.

He said the “huge strengthening of the AfD increases the obligation on other parties to explore how they can govern”.

Months after its foundation in 2013, the AfD almost entered the Bundestag in Berlin on an anti euro-bailout ticket. After building support with an anti-migration, anti-establishment platform, the party is set to roll out an “anti-Islam strategy” in the coming months.

Political scientist Karl-Rudolf Korte said the AfD is now a political force to be reckoned with in Germany.

“The only recipe for other parties to counter them,” he said, “is to show confidence and engage for concrete solutions to problems.”