Elections in Berlin: The AfD
With less than two weeks until the local elections I would like to continue with my series explaining Germany's political spectrum by talking about a political party that is gaining a lot of support in the country right now: the AfD.
AfD stands for 'Alternative für Deutschland' – 'alternative for Germany'.
The AfD is very young, founded just at the beginning of 2013 as a reaction to the European financial crisis and especially the Greek bailout.
One of its founders and for its first years the main face of the party was Bernd Lucke, professor for macroeconomics at the university of Hamburg. Before Lucke founded the AfD he was a member of the CDU, Germany's conservative party, but left it in criticism of its political decisions dealing with Greece, trying to keep it in the Euro-zone at all costs.
The original main position of the AfD therefore was a general criticism of the Euro as a European currency which Bernd Lucke called a „historic mistake“. When asked in the first years what the AfD is standing for, most people clearly labeled the AfD an 'anti-Euro-party'.
While such right-wing parties are common in almost all European countries, this was a new political position in Germany, since we are basically the country that profits from the Euro the most thanks to our export-oriented economy. The only party that had shared this position before was actually the NPD.
The AfD was always located at the right edge of the political spectrum and while Bernd Lucke and the other original founders definitely aren't racists or nationalists, the party from the very early beginning on attracted members and voters with that point of view.
Already in its first year the AfD ran at the general German elections to the parliament and achieved 4,7%, very close to the margin of 5% needed to enter the parliament.
It continued its success in the next year when the AfD entered three East-German parliaments with results ranging from 9,7% - 12,2% and also had a good result at the elections to the European Parliament.
After the early successes the party started to struggle though. Internally different wings started to form that fought over control and direction of the party. Bernd Lucke's strategy to attract voters from the right edge while trying to present the party as being outside the usual spectrum of left and right failed very soon.
The majority of the party moved further and further to the right, while Lucke tried to remain in control of the AfD and keep it more centered.
During this time the AfD just barely made it into two more local parliaments in West-Germany with results of 5,5% and 6,1%.
The conflict between the market-liberal and the national-conservative wings of the AfD ended in July 2015 when Lucke lost his position as first spokesman of the party to Frauke Petry.
As a result he and many of his supporters left the AfD and founded another party called ALFA which has so far not managed to archieve any success.
As a result of the struggle and eventual split of the party the AfD dropped in the polls below the 5% margin and seemed to disappear in political unimportantness once again.
This changed massively when one year ago, on the 4th of September 2015 Angela Merkel decided to open up Germany to the refugees streaming in large numbers on the Balcan route into Europe, announcing what she called the German 'welcome-culture', using the slogan 'Wir schaffen das!' - 'We can do this!' in her attempt to solve the humanitarian crisis escalating further and further at the doorsteps of the European Union.
While the majority of the German population supported this decision at the time it was made, the following chaos in the registration and housing of the refugees quite quickly led to a drop in the support rates of Angela Merkel and her conservative party.
The AfD was given its main political topic with this development and immediately positioned itself as an anti-refugee-party, entering three more local parliaments in March 2016 with good numbers, even becoming the second-strongest party in Sachsen-Anhalt, one of the East-German federal states, with 24,3%.
Their latest success happend two days ago, on the 4th of September in the East-German federal state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, where the AfD reached 20,8% and has for the first time surpassed the conservative party in an election, becoming the second-strongest political force in northeastern Germany.
The AfD has attracted votes from basically all political parties, from the extreme left to the extreme right and managed to lure a lot of voters to the polling stations that didn't vote during the last elections, raising the turnout above 60%, around 10% more than 5 years ago.
As a result the NPD has dropped out of the parliament, halfing its numbers of votes in comparison to the last election, not being represented in a single German parliament anymore.
The NPD had urged its potential voters just before the election to not vote for the AfD, but rather for the „original“, showing how close those two parties actually are politically.
In Berlin the AfD is standing at 10 – 15% in the polls and will surely get into our parliament as well on the 18th of this month. Their numbers country-wide stand at a similar position.
Many people are quite concerned about their rise in popularity, comparing it to the rise of Adolf Hitler's party in the early 1930's.
While that comparison in my opinion goes a bit too far, it cannot be denied that the AfD has many racist, antisemitic and especially antiislamic attitudes and positions.
The AfD attracts protest voters (many of whom didn't vote in the last elections), disappointed conservatives, nationalists and also Neo-Nazis.
With that the party is furthermore part of the general trend in the western world of a nationalist revival represented by parties like Front National in France, UKIP in Great Britain or Donald Trumps candidacy in the USA.
How far their influence in Germany will still go cannot be said just yet. But the rise of the AfD has definitely caused a significant shift in the German political landscape and might very well cost Angela Merkel her fourth term as chancellor in the next election in 2017.