Germany's governing parties staved off another crisis with wins in two state elections in the country's east yesterday. However, a far-right opponent that surged to finish a strong second savored the prospect of harrying mainstream rivals in its heartland.
The Alternative for Germany (AfD) proclaimed that it can't be frozen out of power forever after it nearly tripled its support in Saxony and almost doubled it in neighboring Brandenburg Sunday compared with five years earlier.
The far-right AfD took around a quarter of the vote between the two states, reflecting its establishment as a major political force, particularly in the ex-communist east, after the 2015 migrant influx. But it fell short of beating the traditional parties that have governed those regions since German reunification in 1990, a possibility that seemed likely a few weeks ago and could have further destabilized Chancellor Angela Merkel's struggling coalition government in Berlin.
In Saxony, the CDU party won 32.1% of the vote, down from 39.4% in 2014. The AfD soared to 27.5% and second position from just 9.7% five years ago. The result is the best-ever at the state level for the party, which was formed only in 2013. In neighboring Brandenburg, the SPD saw off a challenge from the AfD to secure some 26.2% of the vote after all votes were counted, down from 31.9% in 2014, while the AfD surged to 23.5% from 12.2% in the last poll. Voters in the state hammered the CDU, which saw its support fall to 15.6% and third spot after winning 23% five years ago.
It remains uncertain whether her alliance will survive until the next national election, due in 2021. That is likely to become clear only in December, when the center-left Social Democrats, Merkel's junior partners in Berlin, finish choosing a new leadership from a 17-candidate field and mull the alliance's future.
Despite the little prospect of entering government, AfD parliamentary secretary Bernd Baumann celebrated the Saxony result as a "gigantic increase" and told state broadcaster ARD that the huge shift "shows that the republic is burning in all corners and ends." Bjoern Hoecke, a prominent regional AfD leader in Thuringia called for earlier federal elections and an end to the "Merkel era," claiming the ruling coalition no longer had the mandate to govern.
Turkish community expresses fears of racism
The Turkish community in Germany has reacted with alarm to the surge in support for the AfD after the state elections in Saxony and Brandenburg. "The elections in Brandenburg and Saxony make it clear that racism has increased again in the new states," Gökay Sofuoğlu, head of the umbrella group the Turkish Community in Germany (TGD), said yesterday.
The "new states" refer to the five eastern German states that used to make up the German Democratic Republic (GDR). Sofuoğlu said all of society should be shaken by the results, and that "the other democratic parties should finally stop letting the agenda be dictated by right-wing ideologies."
During the campaign, the head of the AfD in Brandenburg, Andreas Kalbitz, often spoke about cultural identity, using phrases such as, "This is the homeland of the German people, not just any people" and "we are setting a course that makes homeland mean homeland again."