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Germany’s anti-immigrant party falls flat in latest local election

People wave German flags in Erfurt, central Germany, during a demonstration initiated by the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party against the immigration situation, Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2016. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/JENS MEYER
People wave German flags in Erfurt, central Germany, during a demonstration initiated by the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party against the immigration situation, Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2016. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/JENS MEYER

Germany’s anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) party will be disappointed with the results of local council elections in Lower Saxony after the party only received 7.8 percent of the vote — placing them in fourth among all parties and falling short of the 10 percent they were expecting to receive.

The loss placed AfD behind Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats and the more left-leaning Social Democrats. The results weren’t particularly close either, with Merkel’s team gaining over 34 percent of the vote and the Social Democrats getting over 31 percent. The Greens finished third just under 11 percent.

“The AfD played on the public’s angst that refugees, some 70 percent of whom are Muslims, are overrunning Germany, siphoning away housing, resources and jobs from Germans,” Reuters reported. “Merkel rejected that argument, saying no funds were taken away for refugees.”

A week earlier, AfD beat Merkel’s conservatives in an eastern region called Mecklenburg Vorpommern. AfD received nearly 21 percent of the vote then, with Merkel’s group coming in third with 19 percent.

The AfD is more popular in the formerly Communist east where the economy isn’t as strong and the per capita income is much lower. Lower wage earners and families typically support upstart parties. A potential comparison might be the economically insecure American voters who are supporting Donald Trump in the presidential election.

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But despite the AfD’s emergence the major parties still have a foothold over German politics. In most major cities, the AfD received less than 10 percent of the vote in local council elections. The only exception is Hannover where they barely broke the 10 percent barrier.

Nonetheless, the shift to support — however minor or major — a right-wing, anti-immigrant party is concerting for many in Germany. While AfD may not speak for the entire German population, it has made itself a noted political actor and expressed the concerns of a growing percentage of citizens.

“We must recognize: the AfD is now a political factor in Lower Saxony,” Stephan Weil, a social democrat chief minister of Lower Saxony, said. The same can certainly be said about many other areas in Germany.

The Berlin region is up next to vote this coming Sunday. AfD might find it hard to gather large support from Berliners. Police have already reported multiple incidents of AfD campaigners being attacked in the area.

For her part, Merkel has yet to deviate from her policy of aiding, receiving, and resettling refugees — an act that is supported by large swathes of Europe but proven controversial at home among portions of a growing anti-Muslim and anti-refugee populace.

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“I am the party leader, I am the chancellor — you can’t separate those in people’s eyes, so I am of course responsible too” Merkel said after the defeat in the eastern region last week. “However, I believe the decisions that have been made were right, and now we must continue working.”

And there are clear patterns that some of the AfD’s supporters are being cherry-picked from other parties — including Merkel’s own CDU.

“According to official results published on Monday, overall the AfD gained voters from most established parties: the CDU, long the dominant force in the region’s local authorities, was down to 34.4 per cent from 37 per cent in the previous election in 2011; the SPD dropped to 31.2 per cent (34.9 per cent); and the Greens fell to 10.9 per cent (14.3 per cent),” the Financial Times reported on Monday.

Still, Merkel’s bloc leads national polls, but AfD is on the rise and polling between 11 and 14 percent nationally — a strong showing for a party only formed in 2013. The association with strong, right-wing rhetoric has also scared Germany’s Council of Jews.

“Apparently it is not clear to many voters, or they accept this, that AfD doesn’t distance itself clearly from the far-right spectrum either in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania or nationally,” council head Josef Schuster told CBS. “[AfD] was unfortunately successful with its tactic of feeding prejudice against minorities and offering slogans instead of solutions.”