Setbacks for AfD in latest German elections

Jörg Meuthen of AfD, whose party lost ground in two important elections this weekend.

Regional elections in two areas of Germany yesterday resulted in setbacks for the anti-immigration party Alternative for Germany (Alternative für Deutschland – AfD).

For several years the party had seemed to be making steady advances in every area of Germany, especially after Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision in August 2015 to admit more than a million ‘asylum seekers’.

Yet the Covid pandemic seems to have knocked AfD off course. At the start of the crisis there was a tendency for conservative German voters to rally behind Merkel and her centrist-conservative CDU. In recent weeks that support has begun to crumble, partly because of a perception that the German government had bungled vaccine procurement, and partly because of a couple of scandals involving pandemic-related contracts.

Yet none of this swing against the government has benefited AfD, whose leaders allowed the party to become associated with anti-lockdown protests. This seems to have distracted from the party’s core messages: far fewer German voters are radically sceptical about Covid than are radically anti-immigration.

Nigel Farage with (above right) AfD’s deputy leader Beatrix von Storch

For the past year AfD has failed to poll above 12% in any national opinion poll, where previously it was often reaching 15% or more. This decline took concrete form in both of yesterday’s elections.

In Baden-Württemberg (traditionally conservative but ruled by a Green-CDU coalition since 2016), AfD’s vote fell from 15.1% to 9.7%, losing six of their seventeen seats in the regional parliament or Landtag. This result will embarrass AfD’s national co-leader Jörg Meuthen, since Baden-Württemberg is his home state.

Yesterday’s other election in Rhineland-Palatinate, best known as the centre of German wine production, saw another sharp fall in AfD’s vote from 12.6% to 8.3%, losing five of their nine seats.

AfD has been distracted and possibly damaged by association with anti-lockdown protests.

In both of these regions the ‘centre-right’ CDU and the ‘far right’ AfD lost support, and in both the Greens were the big winners. In neither case were there any more radical nationalist parties standing, which isn’t surprising since neither region is a traditional stronghold for the racial nationalist NPD or for any of the smaller parties of similar outlook.

The only good news from these elections is that German mainstream parties are still struggling for credibility. Chancellor Merkel retires this year, and the federal election in September is likely to lead to some sort of CDU-Green coalition, further damaging Merkel’s party in the eyes of traditional conservatives. It’s not too late for AfD to get back on track and for German nationalists to escape from the cul-de-sac of pandemic politics.

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