Germany’s far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) for the first time won a district council election as it overtook Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democrats in national polls, sparking concerns over a broader rise of the populist party in upcoming elections.
AfD candidate Robert Sesselmann on Sunday won a runoff election in Sonneberg, in the eastern German state of Thuringia, against incumbent district administrator Jürgen Köpper from the center-right Christian Democrat Party (CDU) — despite other parties like the Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and Free Democrats endorsing the CDU candidate.
“I’m dismayed by the result in Sonneberg,” said Green lawmaker Katrin Göring-Eckardt, who is also one of the vice chairs of the Bundestag. “Thank you to all who continue to fight for this county to remain democratic, open-minded and friendly.”
She added, however, that she thinks Sonneberg — which is one of Germany’s smallest districts, with only around 48,000 eligible voters — could not be compared to the rest of Thuringia, much less the entire country.
Still, the far-right victory in the local election — which was heavily overshadowed by national issues such as a controversial green energy law — comes amid a broader rise of the AfD in national polls: The most recent data by POLITICO’s Poll of Polls, which shows the average of national polls, shows that the AfD has overtaken Scholz’s SPD as Germany’s second-most-popular political party.
The far right is particularly strong in the states of former East Germany which, despite reunification, continue to experience lower employment and economic development rates. The AfD currently leads in polls in the eastern states of Brandenburg, Saxony and Thuringia, all of which will hold elections next year.
Most recently, the party has been successful in attracting voters by railing against rising migrant numbers as well as the government’s plans to boost green energy, most notably by a new law that bans gas and oil heating in new buildings.
Charlotte Knobloch, the President of the Jewish Community in Munich and Upper Bavaria, reacted to the far-right victory in Sonneberg by saying that “the danger to the Jewish community and other minorities has long been real.”
The AfD has also promoted anti-Semitic clichés, as laid out for example in a study by the American Jewish Committee.
Confronted by the widespread criticism that the controversy around the German government’s heating law contributed to the far-right rise, Scholz’s spokesperson Steffen Hebestreit rebutted that the government has “a clear concept” for the green transition and is “on a good path, but we are not there yet.”
In a thinly veiled reference to the AfD, Hebestreit also warned that “pitting groups against each other, and perhaps also making migrants responsible for something for which they are not responsible at all, is certainly not a recipe that would lead this country into a good future.”
Scholz admitted in a speech last week that the green transition “will not be easy” and stressed that the government must “provide convincing answers” to citizens who are concerned about potentially costly steps in weaning Germany off of fossil fuels.
“Otherwise, those who play politics with public fear and in bad temper will become even more popular,” the chancellor said.
Source : Politico