Regional support for German extremists surges to parliamentary majority

Two parties with anti-immigrant policies are making gains in eastern states

Leftist politician Sahra Wagenknecht greets supporters in Berlin. Her party, the BSW, is making strong gains in eastern Germany. Photograph: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

In a first for Germany, two extremist parties have secured majority support in two eastern states that elect new parliaments in September.

In Saxony, a new poll puts the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) on 32 per cent support, while a new party founded by leftist Sahra Wagenknecht, BSW, has – after just five months in existence – secured 15 per cent.

Over the border in Thuringia, meanwhile, the BSW (Bündnis Sahra Wagenknecht, or Sahra Wagenknecht Alliance) has 21 per cent, seven points behind the AfD on 28 per cent.

Taken together the two parties in Saxony and Thuringia have 47 and 49 per cent support respectively, giving them – on paper at least – enough support to form the next state governments in Dresden and Erfurt.


Other polls have confirmed the drift towards both extremist parties, with the BSW in particular pulling in support from all established parties and not, as previously predicted, just from the AfD.

The latter’s policies – nationalist, anti-Islam and anti-immigrant – place it on the far right of the political spectrum. It is considered an extremist party and a threat to Germany’s democratic order by intelligence services.

Dr Wagenknecht’s party mixes leftist economic and rightist migration stances. Both parties are sceptical about the war in Ukraine and urge Berlin to push for negotiations with Moscow.

The BSW says the party will not co-operate with the AfD in government, and fired a regional leader last week for suggesting otherwise. “However, we will no longer participate in voting against every AfD proposal on principle if the contents make sense,” said Christian Leye, BSW general secretary.

Germany’s major political parties have ruled out any kind of coalition or co-operation with the AfD in any parliament. But state CDU and SPD leaders have been less outspoken about the BSW at state level, refusing to rule out co-operation with the new party after September’s state elections.

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The new poll numbers landed like mortar shells in a gathering of eastern state leaders with chancellor Olaf Scholz on Wednesday, a chilly gathering dominated by the battle to control illegal migration and a number of violent attacks involving asylum seekers and immigrants.

Speculation about the AfD and BSW, and their voters coalescing over such hot button issues, has revived talk of a potential “horseshoe effect” in German politics.

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However, political analysts suggest the theory, dating to the Weimar era a century ago, doesn’t fit comfortably with two extremist parties that are fighting over common voters and, by their own admission, are unable to co-operate.

“The BSW is experiencing a huge surge while the AfD, at the moment, has lost its energy,” said Prof Klaus Schubert, political scientist at the University of Münster. “The greater problem is that, after the elections in Saxony, there may be no clear liberal-democratic majority.”

Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin