Guten Tag sunny reader, I hope all is well in your world.
Today, I am going to talk about Germany’s four upcoming state elections and the AfD, a particularly noxious and xenophobic new face on the German political scene. For them these elections are a chance to prove their viability as political actors.
In just under a month’s time several states (Landers) will be voting in crucial elections. I don’t usually talk about state elections and I go mainly for the national picture (call me an old fashioned centralised Brit!) but these elections have been given special significance by Germany watchers and the media. For they allegedly could signal the death knell of Frau Merkel’s time at the ultra modern Chancellery building in Berlin.
In order, the states of Hesse, Baden-Wurttemburg (B-W), Rhineland-Palatinate (R-P) and Saxony-Anhalt (S-A), will all vote by the end of March. How will this play out?
Well according to the latest polls by Forschungsgruppe Wahlen and also polls in the Der Spiegel newspaper, conducted in late January the CDU is forecast to come out on top with percentages of votes of around the mid-high 30s, such as in B-W, where it is on 35%.
In these affluent states, which includes big commercial and cosmopolitan cities, such as Frankfurt and Stuttgart, the main challengers are the Greens (who reach a high of 28% in B-W right down to 5% in R-P) or the Social Democrats (who are at about 15%-17% in most states and then hit 31% in R-P). So the CDU is sitting rather comfortably, and given that the CDU and Social Democrats often mirror the ‘grand coalitions’ at the national level, it is very much conceivable that they will form these in the states to. That is not the issue so much but the rise of the Alternative fur Deutschland (AfD), right wing and Eurosceptic upstart party, is the story of these elections (sorry dear reader I took a rather lengthy detour to bring you that news flash!) and the polls for that party are on the rise I’m sad to say.
However, this Party is not going to win but could drain votes from the CDU and Social Democrats alike. Hence the CDU leader in R-P, the up and coming Julia Klockner, has defied the Chancellor and called for an upper limit to be placed on the numbers of refugees entering Germany. For the Social Democrats they risk losing the blue collar, working class males who, like we have seen in the UK, USA and other western nations, are too easily falling under the spell of right wing demagogues (you can guess I have the odious figure of Donald Trump in mind!) and who are a ripe and juicy demographic for these types of politicians. Much like UKIP in the UK, they initially attracted disillusioned intellectuals and the middle class, such as professors and doctors, with more than two-thirds of their original membership holding doctorates. It was at the time dubbed the ‘professors’ party’ for this reason. Not anymore as I explain in more detail down below.
There is also disgruntlement within the AfD ranks which has bubbled to the surface on occasions and this gives a glimmer of hope that the Party orgnisation is much more fragile than it first appears.The AfD was formed in 2013 and was originally set up as a Eurosceptic populist party. Its founder, Bernd Lucke, who was elected an MEP in the 2014 European elections tried to keep the Party away from any overtly racist statements and elements and stick to a staunchly anti-Euro line. Although, following the refugee crisis last summer and the election of hardline and populist, Frauke Petry, the AfD has happily and very publicly embraced the anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant rhetoric of the Pegida movement and I doubt she would reject the classification of the AfD as the ‘Pegida party’ given the number of AfD flags that are waved at Pegida marches.
What is interesting about Frau Petry is that she had a very similar upbringing to Angela Merkel, although there (mercifully for Mrs Merkel) the similarity ends. Both are East German scientists who broke through the ranks of their largely male dominated parties to clinch the top spots. The AfD is according to the Spiegel Magazine, 86% male in terms of its membership numbers.
However, the original founders of the AfD (whose views on the Euro I strongly disagree with but they were at least presented in a civilised fashion) such as Mr Lucke and several other academics and economists, have now left the party highlighting its rightward and pro-Russian lurch as the main reasons. This action deprived the AfD of 5 of its 7 MEPs and a core segment of their more respectable and middle class supporters. These defectors have now established a new party called the Alliance for Progress and Renewal (ALFA).
Whilst the AfD and the threat they pose to modern, prosperous and tolerant Germany should not be taken lightly we must also reflect on their polling numbers. Yes, they have made a name for themselves and got into state legislatures the real test will come in 2017 at the federal election level where they remain I am pleased to say, small fry.
As I keep reminding people whilst Frau Merkel may be down she is not out, and I have yet to see any obvious alternatives to her on the horizon. Her Party remains very strong at the federal and local levels but what the analysts have forecast is that if the CDU slumps in support in these Lander elections in March she may, like her Social Democrat predecessor Gerhard Schroder, be forced to call a confidence vote in her leadership and potentially lose her post. This is a possibility but I still think it unlikely. This is a Chancellor who is still popular, at about 50% approval ratings, when compared with other democratic leaders,this is astonishing after 11 years inf office, and she could still resoundingly win a head to head vote against her rivals in a federal election.
At the opening of her campaign rally in Magdeburg, the capital of Saxony-Anhalt, she acknowledged difficulties but displayed her main talent in my opinion (the ability to look clearly at the future and analyse what is best for the long term welfare of her country) and she said “I know that people are impatient and want fast answers but fast answers are often the wrong answers.” How I for one will miss her when she chooses to retire.