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UPDATE ANALYSIS Merkel win infused with angst as far-right AfD surges into parliament By Friederike Heine, dpa

Europe
24.09.2017
By our dpa-correspondent and Europe Online    auf Facebook posten  Auf Twitter posten  
It‘s official: For the first time in 60 years, a far-right party will sit in the German parliament. The better-than-expected result for the AfD has unsettled the parties that have governed Germany since the end of World War II.

Berlin (dpa) - The prospect of as many as 98 lawmakers from a right-wing outfit, branded "real Nazis" by Germany‘s foreign minister, taking seats in the Bundestag meant an election many had termed boring ended with a large dash of apprehension and angst.

Despite a concerted effort by German politicians, including Chancellor Angela Merkel, to deter people from choosing the Alternative for Germany (AfD), the right-wing outfit is projected to win 13.2 per cent of the vote.

The result has surpassed expectations - with the majority of polls conducted this week showing the AfD at 11 per cent of the vote - to the dismay of the established parties.

"Some tried to ignore them, others referred to them as right-wing extremists and Nazis," Oskar Niedermayer, a political scientist at Berlin‘s Freie University, told dpa. "That can be dangerous. It instils a sense of solidarity among its supporters."

For the first time in 60 years, a nationalist, reactionary party will sit in the Bundestag, the same location where Nazis and Communists upended the Weimar Republic in the 1930s.

The AfD was founded in 2013 as a eurosceptic outfit, but turned its focus to opposition to Islam and immigration amid a nationalist backlash against Merkel‘s decision to welcome hundreds of thousands of migrants in 2015 and 2016.

The centre-left Social Democrats (SPD), which sustained a dramatic defeat to Merkel‘s Christian Democrats (CDU) on Sunday, vowed to go into opposition to prevent the AfD from becoming the leader of the opposition.

SPD leader Martin Schulz referred to the far-right surge as "depressing," saying that widespread fears about the refugee crisis had fuelled support for the AfD.

"This is a turning point," said Schulz. "It‘s clear that the decision to welcome refugees has divided our society. What is a great act of humanity to some seems threatening to others. We didn‘t manage to convince people that Germany is strong enough to leave no one behind."

Merkel said she would seek "to win back voters by listening to their concerns and their fears and primarily by conducting good politics."

Four years ago, the AfD - founded by eurosceptic economics professor Bernd Lucke - narrowly missed the 5-per-cent hurdle to enter the Bundestag. But Lucke and his contemporaries, who refused to align themselves with other right-wing outfits in Europe, are long gone.

They were succeeded first by Frauke Petry, a former entrepreneur from eastern Germany, and later by Alexander Gauland - a 76-year-old former CDU veteran - and Alice Weidel, an openly lesbian former banker who lives in Switzerland for tax reasons.

Both have expressed anti-Islam and anti-foreigner views. Gauland is currently under investigation by prosecutors on suspicion of inciting public hatred by called for a German-Turkish politician to be "disposed of in Anatolia."

"The fact that we are the third-strongest party [means that] this government should dress warmly. We will chase them! We will chase Merkel or whomever else! And we will take our country and our nation back," Gauland said after the result was announced.

Though there are still far-right and more moderate factions within the party, what has emerged is an outfit that decries gay marriage, immigration and globalism, and wants to seal Germany‘s borders and impose a cap of 200,000 on net immigration.

In its manifesto, the AfD has a section dedicated to explaining "why Islam does not belong to Germany," which states that the religion is not compatible with the constitution.

It proposes a ban on the foreign funding of mosques and the full-body veil for Muslim women. It also wants to outlaw minarets and the Muslim call to prayer.

The AfD scored stunning electoral gains in more than a dozen state elections in the wake of Merkel‘s decision to admit hundreds of thousands of refugees into the country, and even managed to win more support than the CDU in Merkel‘s home state in eastern Germany.

Its support waned slightly as the refugee crisis was replaced by other topics at the top of Germany‘s political agenda, but experts say the election campaign reignited the debate.

"The refugee crisis returned to the voters‘ consciousness in recent weeks, on the one hand due to developments in Italy and Libya, but also because of the election campaign, in which parties made explicit references to it again," Niedermayer told dpa.

Dismayed observers are consoling themselves by saying that the AfD‘s weaknesses will be revealed in parliament.

In order to avoid discord in its parliamentary group, the AfD has appointed a three-person planning committee tasked with finding members with the neccessary technical knowledge and appointing as many as nine deputies to coordinate between different factions.

"Many of the inner contradictions the party has done a passable job of covering up so far will be laid bare in the Bundestag," Hendrik Traeger, a political scientist at the University of Leipzig, told the FAZ newspaper last week.

 

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