As the first exit polls were released in the state legislative elections on Sunday, cheers broke out in the German state of Brandenburg. Alexander Gauland, the leader of the Alternative for Germany in that state, beamed from a podium and clenched his fists like tennis star Boris Becker after winning big points. The anti-euro party won 12 percent of the vote in Brandenburg and 10 percent in Thuringia. “We have arrived in German politics, the others better get ready,” said Mr. Gauland.
Nationwide party chief Bernd Lucke classified the results quickly: “Citizens are thirsty for a political renewal in Germany,” he said. They wanted “value-oriented politics” again. Mr. Lucke named the euro currency, family policy, public debt and immigration control as issues that could propel the upstart party to more triumphs. Alternative for Germany, which was founded last year and is known by the abbreviation AfD, had already won 7 seats in the European Parliament elections in May.
“Citizens are thirsty for a political renewal in Germany”
In Germany, the conservative party enjoyed earlier electoral success in Saxony. The successes in the three eastern states – Brandenburg, Thuringia and Saxony – should lead to the party’s entry into more German parliaments relatively soon, Mr. Lucke said. The party wants involvement in day-to-day politics, and is already looking to the spring elections in Bremen and Hamburg. In 2017, Mr. Lucke wants to lead his team into the lower house of the German parliament, or Bundestag.
There are several reasons for the rise of AfD. First of all, it no longer only presents itself as an anti-euro party but rather as hard-line conservatives. Despite its right-wing populist orientation, the party offers an alternative for conservative voter groups who don’t agree with German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s modernization of the Christian Democratic Union, said political scientist Oskar Niedermayer: “In this area, the AfD cleverly addresses issues such as immigration and border crime. Topics, in which other parties fail to address the fears and problems some voters have.” He criticized Mr. Lucke for appealing to East German voters who assert that life in the former German Democratic Republic was better than in West Germany.
Such topics helped the party succeed in elections in Saxony, Brandenburg and Thuringia. In addition, the AfD is also benefiting from the fall of the pro-business Free Democratic Party, FDP, that can no longer gain traction in Germany. “The success of the AfD explains its economic position as the market-liberal party, that stripped away a part of the traditional middle class from the FDP,” Mr. Niedermayer said.
The AfD might be “a kind of catch-all for resentment against political correctness and the curtailed political discourse of the grand coalition in Berlin,” said Jürgen Dittberner, a researcher into political parties at the University of Potsdam. If the ruling CDU and its coalition partner, the Social Democrats, continue their “general feel-good course” in the German government, the AfD’s chances will remain good. “If the big parties should, however, return to policies that are readily identifiable with clear political goals, the AfD would shrink again,” said Mr. Dittberner.
Political scientist Heinrich Oberreuter said the AfD profited mainly from its “decidedly bourgeois conservatism with completely national, but in no way extreme-shaped attitudes, such as a distance to socio-political modernization and change-in-values processes.” The stance was attracting former CDU voters.
For the CDU, it may be “a horror vision” that a competitor might be emerging on its right. That was why it might be reacting so sensitively, Mr. Oberreuter said. Ms. Merkel warned her party last week to address citizens’ concerns and fears.
This article was translated by Anna Park Kim. Vinny Kuntz also contributed to the story. Dietmar Neuerer is Handelsblatt’s political correspondent in the newspaper’s Berlin office. Contact the author: email@example.com