Far right enters German parliament

05 10 17

For the first time since the early days of the Federal Republic of Germany, a far right party – the Alternative for Germany (AfD) – will send candidates into the national parliament, the Bundestag.

The AfD has become third largest party with 12.6% of the votes leaving the Green Party, the Liberals and the Left behind.

The results showed heavy losses for the two main parties – Christian Democrats and Social Democrats which, together, lost some 14% of their previous votes, reaching their worst results ever in post-war German elections.

Compared to the roughly two million voters the AfD mobilised in 2013, this time nearly 5.9 million voted for the racist party.

In Saxony, where the now-resigned – and charged with perjury – party speaker Frauke Petry led the regional branch, the party increased its vote by 400% compared with the most recent regional elections in 2014.

Alarmingly, the Social Democrats gained only 10% of the vote. In all the other East German states, the AfD emerged as the second strongest party.

Further strongholds of the party were in Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg but pockets of as much as 40% support for the AfD can be identified in many other regions.

The AfD was able bring some 1.1 million people who had abstained from the 2013 election to the polls. An additional million votes came from supporters of the Christian Democrats as well as 0.5 million from the Social Democrats and another 0.4 million from the Left party.

The AfD was, above averagely, supported by male voters, by voters with secondary education and ages ranging from 30 to 44 years.

For those who voted AfD frustration or rejection of Merkel’s decisions to not close the borders in 2015 was the most important reason, closely followed by the notion that the Christian Democratic party (CDU) under Merkel’s stewardship has renounced its conservative profile.

Even more than a third of those who did not vote for the AfD agreed that the party’s position of reducing the assumed influence of Islam and restricting immigration are necessary.
In parts of East Germany, where racists mobilised by AfD and Pegida tried to crush Merkel’s campaign appearances, there is a strong feeling of marginalisation and neglect resulting from the fact that, after more than 25 years since unifying the two German states and despite many promises by the political elite, equal treatment is not in place.

While, in many constituencies, the Left Party was the protagonist many trusted to address these issues, the party is seen by many as part of the political establishment, meanwhile. This explains, in part, losses the Left Party suffered.

A major factor in voters’ anger and frustration is the continuous depopulation of the more rural areas that lead to the closure of schools and doctors’ surgeries and affect the quality of life significantly.

While most parties did not show up during the campaign, AfD systematically toured very small towns and places.
Finally, it was easy for the AfD to reach out to people with racist attitudes with a campaign linking the growing number of refugees coming to Germany with issues such as crime, insecurity, and unfair treatment.

On the evening of the election, leading AfD candidate Alexander Gauland threatened to “hunt” the future government again and again.

This statement got huge applause from the AfD crowd and should be understood as an indication of a huge level of self-confidence. This is no surprise as the election strategy of the AfD – to create public awareness and address the electorate with explicitly racist and revisionist statements – has paid off very well.

After its success, representatives of the AfD will also gain seats in bodies controlling public broadcasting, civic education, the secret service plus parliamentary assemblies of international organisations like the Council of Europe and the NATO in which the Front National and the Party for Freedom are already present.

In Germany’s parliament the strongest minority party traditionally gets the position of the influential presidency of the budgets committee. It might also get the same position in the culture committee in which many projects confronting racism and antisemitism are discussed and agreed.

In regional parliaments, the AfD has several times attacked civil society and charity groups that are supporting refugees and demanded to cancel the funding.

In all, the AfD will continue to put pressure on the democratic parties, especially on issues are relevant to its followers like migration, crime, abortion and family, blaming the left and liberalism for what they call the decay of Germany.

Its breakthrough has provided the AfD with 94 seats in the Bundestag plus hundreds of jobs for far right and racist activists. Its work there will be dominated by a stance of polarising and hate speech.

One of the more recent examples came from the top candidate and future head of the AfD fraction in the national parliament, Alexander Gauland. At the AfD’s first press conference after the elections, he stated – in a typical way of allusion – that he is in doubt that Israel’s right to exist should be part of Germany’s reason of state.

Support for Israel has been for long a fundamental pillar of German foreign politics even if parties like the nazi National Democrats (NPD) have questioned this many times.

The same day, party spokesman Jörg Meuthen denied that the party had become more radical over the last years and even defended Björn Höcke’s ridiculous racist claim, made in November 2016 in a speech given at the extreme right Institut für Staatspolitik, that there is a particular African strategy of reproduction compared to the European one.

With Gauland claiming in an interview with the tabloid BILD that Björn Höcke belongs to the very heart of the AfD it is highly unlikely that an earlier attempt by intraparty opponents to kick him out of the party will be successful. Moreover, Gauland favours that Höcke should be elected into the Federal Executive of the AfD.

The most dramatic incident, however, happened in the morning after the election. The AfD was the first to comment on the results at a Federal Press Conference. With Frauke Petry, being the last of the party’s speakers, repeated her criticism of pushing the party further to the right and then – taking everyone by surprise – declared, before flouncing out of the room, that she would not become a member of the AfD’s Bundestag fraction.

It was foreseeable that the infighting in the AfD would continue. Jörg Meuthen had already announced that he would oppose Petry if she ran for the position of the party leader in December.

While Petry probably had hoped that her withdrawal would prompt others to follow her, there were only very few who decided to resign from their party positions and/or to leave the party.

Alongside Petry, it was only her partner Marcus Pretzell, who was head of the AfD fraction in the parliament of North Rhine Westphalia as well as a couple of likeminded in the Saxon branch of the AfD – that Petry led for several years – who quit.

Even several AfD leaders who shared Petry’s critique of the radicalisation of the AfD criticised her for her isolated individual decision.

Even in case that, over time and due to scandals to come, more will leave the current AfD fraction in the national parliament, this will not significantly hinder the work of the AfD.

It also seems unlikely that 36 MPs – this is how many Petry needs to establish a parliamentary fraction – will leave the party and join a new party project whose future is more than uncertain.

When former party leader Bernd Lucke founded a party after being dismissed from the AfD, he failed miserably.

Petry was directly elected to the Bundestag in her constituency in Saxony. Many who voted for her are deeply disappointed by her decision. This will also weigh on every attempt at a new beginning.

As a result of her walkout there is no person around whom the minority in the AfD critical to pushing the party further to the right can gather and organise.

The party now is under the control of radical and extreme right forces. Accordingly, Bernd Baumann from Hamburg, who is close to Gauland, was elected to the influential position of the parliamentary manager.

A number of future MPs has also made headlines with racist and revisionist statements.

For example, leading AfD candidate Alice Weidel – initially presented as moderate – wrote in an e-mail about the government that “these pigs are nothing else but marionettes of the victorious powers of the Second World War”.

Such choice of words is more typical of what the nazi NPD regularly uses.

Albrecht Glaser, selected by the party for the position of the vice-president of the national parliament, earlier argued against the One-World ideology of communists and capitalists echoing classic Nazi terminology.

Wilhelm von Gottberg, a long-term functionary of the associations of Germans expelled from East European countries, sees the Holocaust as an “effective vehicle to criminalise the Germans and their history”. And Beatrix von Storch accused Social Democrat MP Eva Högl of being an “ADHD-maniac”.

While announcements of the AfD that it will win the majority of votes in the 2021 elections are utter drivel, the election result will further boost the self-confidence of the broad far right movement that has developed over the last three years and of which the AfD has become the centre.

The staff and the financial resources the AfD will get with the entry into the national parliament will give this movement as a whole more options for action and organisational stability.

The recent action when AfD candidate Andreas Lichert was involved in the purchase of a property that now serves the Identitarian Movement as a base could be exemplary for similar developments in the future.

In the coming years, the current party leadership will focus on performing a radical nativist and racist opposition on the national level.

On the regional level, the AfD will try to push at least the Christian Democrats further to the right using issues like migration, crime and by playing the anti-communist card.

Those inside the Christian Democratic Party who had been favouring collaboration with the AfD already– like many in Saxony-Anhalt – will be lured to intensify collaboration.

The next regional elections in Saxony in 2019 might bring up the AfD as the strongest party again which would then give them the option to run a government.

However, with the Christian Democrats and the Left becoming either second or third but not ready to enter into a coalition, the AfD will only help create a situation of political chaos.


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