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Making Sense of the Latest German Regional Election

September 15, 2016
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mecklenburg-vorpommern-landtagswahl-afd-cdu

© John MacDougall/AFP/Getty Images

 

Last week the German federal state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern held their regional elections. The upstart AfD party (Alternative for Germany), were the big winners, garnering 20.8 percent of the vote and winning 18 seats in the state parliament. The traditional big three parties, the CDU (Christian Democrats), the SPD (Social Democrats), and Die Linke (The Left), all lost seats. The CDU lost 2 seats and earned 19 percent of the vote, down 4.1 percent. The SPD lost 2 seats and earned 30.6 percent of the vote, down 5.1 percent. Die Linke lost 3 seats and earned 13.2 percent, down 5.2 percent. So what does this mean for Merkel, the CDU, and Germany as a whole? Firstly, it is important to understand the AfD party.

*Statistics provided by:  http://wahlen.mvnet.de/dateien/atlanten/ergebnisse.2016/landtagswahl.html

Understanding the AfD:

The party was originally founded by Bernd Lücke in 2013, an economist and former CDU member, on the basis of Euroscepticism, with its central issue focusing on the failed common currency of the Euro Zone. Lücke was a staunch opponent of bailouts for struggling southern European states.

The party began to attract right-wing populist voters, and the central platform of the party turned from Euroscepticism to anti-immigration and anti-Islam, as Chancellor Angela Merkel and Germany opened its doors to hundreds of thousands of refugees in 2014-2015. This key shift prompted Bernd Lücke to step down and form a new party, Allianz für Fortschritt und Aufbruch (Alliance for Progress and Renewal). The new leader of the AfD party is former scientist, Frauke Petry. Petry is no stranger to controversy, mostly recently calling for the term “Völkisch“to be destigmatized. The term is most commonly associated with Nazi racial ideology. She has also called for the use of armed force for those attempting to entry the country illegally. The appointment of Petry signified the party’s shift to what many might call the far-right. One belief the AfD holds is that Islam is not compatible with German culture and society, which is a view held by an increasing amount of Germans. It is worth noting that there is a party even further right than the AfD, the NPD (the inheritors of the National Socialist Party). The AfD party has gained momentum in recent local elections and in all likelihood will be a player in next year’s federal elections.

Understanding Mecklenburg-Vorpommern:

Mecklenburg-Vorpommern has 1.6 million inhabitants, less than half the population of Berlin. The state is located in the former East Germany, in the far Northwest of the country. The state is mostly rural, relying economically on Baltic Sea tourism during the summer months. The state ranks last of all the German federal states when it comes to GDP per capita, and 4th to last when it comes to unemployment rate.

It is also important to note that Mecklenburg-Vorpommern is considered chancellor Angela Merkel’s turf, having served there as a member of the Bundestag (federal parliament) for the Stralsund-Nordvorpommern-Rügen district of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern since 1990. Evidently many in her home state believe she has simply not done enough to secure Germany’s borders and curb in the influx of migrants, which is ironic, considering Mecklenburg-Vorpommern is only required to take in 2.04165 percent of Germany’s asylum seekers, or roughly 30,000. This puts the ratio at roughly 1 asylum seeker for every 164 Germans in the state

*Statistics provided by: http://www.bamf.de/EN/Migration/AsylFluechtlinge/Asylverfahren/Verteilung/verteilung-node.html

Any discussion of anti-immigrant sentiment in the former East Germany is not complete without discussing the Litchenhagen riots which occurred in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern in August of 1992. The riots occurred in state’s largest city, Rostock. For four days, xenophobic mobs rioted outside apartment blocks housing asylum-seekers in the Rostock district of Lichtenhagen. Though no one was killed, far-right extremists raided and set fire to a building housing asylum-seekers, petrol bombs and stones were thrown, and hundreds of arrests were made. The riots attracted thousands of spectators, who stood by cheering and applauding. The lack of response by local and state politicians and police was heavily criticized following the incident. Many around the country asked why more wasn’t done to protect those under assault and why the riots were allowed to rage for four days. The riots are ever present in the German social memory of the state. Also present in the German social memory of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern is the state’s most prominent soccer club, Hansa Rostock, which is known around the country for having a fan scene that is heavily associated with far-right politics. For many, the election results in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern did not come necessarily as a surprise, given the AfD’s growing popularity, the economic hardships faced by the state, Merkel and the CDU’s lack of action regarding the refugee crisis, and the state’s reputation and history as a hotbed for far-right extremism.

What does it mean for Germany?

The rise of the AfD could spell serious trouble for Merkel’s CDU party in the coming year. The election in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern showed that though the flow of migrants into the country has slowed since its peak in mid-2015, the issue is ever present on the mind of voters. The AfD could continue to tap into the CDU’s more conservative voters who believe Merkel and her ruling coalition have not done enough to curb the influx of migrants. The CSU (Christian Social Union), which is the Bavarian branch of the CDU, has been vocal about the need for Merkel to tighten up her refugee policy. The leader of the CSU and minister president of Bavaria, Horst Seehofer, has blamed Merkel’s disastrous refugee policy for the success of the AfD. Merkel is steadfast that the AfD’s success will not allow her and her party to be pulled to the right.

The next state elections will be held in Berlin (a city-state) on September 18th, where the presence of asylum-seekers on a day-to-day basis is much more visible than in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. It is unlikely that the AfD will find the same success in Berlin that they found in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, but it remains unclear. Polling numbers have the AfD receiving between 2 and 15 percent of the vote, which illustrates another difficulty in Germany, getting accurate polling numbers and information on potential AfD voters. The AfD is currently unrepresented in the Berlin state parliament so winning any type of representation would be considered a monumental victory for the party and would give them further legitimacy in the minds of voters. The next federal election is not until fall of 2017. Will the AfD maintain their momentum or will the movement lose steam and fade away? The answer could have rippling effects across the continent.

*Polling statistics provided by: http://www.wahlrecht.de/umfragen/landtage/berlin.htm

 

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