Right Fight

On Germany's Political Edge, a Partisan Fight for Survival

Last man standing? Holger Zastrow is hoping to keep the FDP in power in Saxony. Source: DPA
Last man standing? Holger Zastrow is hoping to keep the FDP in power in Saxony.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    The FDP was a kingmaker in German politics, but its decline could see Germany become more euroskeptic.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • Saxony is the only German state where the Free Democratic Party (FDP) still governs.
    • The euroskeptic Alternative for Germany (AfD) stands to win seats in Saxony’s legislature.
    • The populist AfD has attempted to fill the political vacuum left by the imploding FDP.
  • Audio

    Audio

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Holger Zastrow works in advertising, so he loves images and comparisons. He considers his own political party, the Free Democrats, to be a lion that has been left for dead before it rises up again.

Mr. Zastrow thought the idea was so good that his team has been wearing T-shirts in the campaign with the logo “Saxon lions,” and he himself took over the sponsorship of Malik, a lion nursed back to health at a zoo in the eastern German state.

But it looks like the Free Democratic Party will not rise like a lion.

Instead, Mr. Zastrow is something like the last man standing. The 45 year old is the head of the FDP in Saxony, the only state where the beleaguered pro-business party remains in power. But the most recent surveys have the FDP polling between 3 and 4 percent, less than the 5 percent needed for the party to retain seats in the state legislature after the upcoming election on August 31.

Meanwhile, fresh from their triumph at the European Parliament elections in May, the euroskeptic Alternative für Deutschland or Alternative for Germany party is poised to gain its first representation in a German state parliament. The most recent polls show the upstart party with 5 to 7 percent of the vote in Saxony.

Mr. Zastrow makes no secret of the fact that it is going to be close for the FDP. “We are in a relegation battle,” he said.

To prevent defeat, he has crisscrossed the state for weeks, visiting businesses and campaigning in small villages. At the end of July, he made a stop on his summer tour at Freiberg, a small city between Dresden and Chemnitz. At the city’s main square, a recent high school graduate spoke with him.

“I think what your party does is good. But why of all things do you commit yourself to the CDU?” the graduate asked, referring to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats.

Mr. Zastrow did not deliberate for long. “We nevertheless say, what the end result will be,” he said. “Either the FDP will join a coalition or “we will be in the opposition.” He said he is annoyed that his current coalition partner has not committed itself to the Free Democrats.

Saxony state prime minister Stanislaw Tillich is keeping his options open.

“Without us, the CDU here would be a left-wing party”

Holger Zastrow

Mr. Zastrow is betting on local issues to pull through after the FDP was thrown out of the national parliament last year. The state party has put up signs throughout the entire state with the slogan: “Saxony is not Berlin.”

“We can only win when we remove ourselves from the national party,” Mr. Zastrow said. The message is that at the moment Germans can still vote for the FDP in Saxony.

The FDP in the state is truly different. Because of the party’s place in the state parliament, Saxony was the one state in the Bundesrat, the upper house of parliament, to vote against the government’s plans to implement a federal minimum wage. The FDP has also rejected the so-called energy transition to renewables, which Mr. Zastrow calls a “planned economy without a plan.”

The state party counts among its successes during its years in government the reintroduction of old car license plates and the end of school closures.

But Mr. Zastrow is still fighting for a repeat of the current state coalition. He sees his party as the market-oriented corrective to Mr. Tillich’s Christian Democrats.

“Without us, the CDU here would be a left-wing party,” he said.

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