EXTREME RIGHT WINGERS will now be sitting in the German Federal Parliament for the first time since the Second World War – according to exit polls following today’s elections.
The polls confirm that Angela Merkel is on course to emerge as the winner and will now have a fourth term in office. Merkel is supported by two Conservative parties: the CDU, which organises mainly in the north of the country, and the significantly smaller CSU, which operates in the south. The two parties are in close alliance and polls estimate they have won 32.5% of the vote – the largest single share of the poll.
The SPD, the sister party of the UK Labour Party, looks to have won only 20% of the vote. The SPD was in coalition with the Conservatives in the last Parliament and if the result is this low, their lowest poll since World War Two, they will be very disappointed.
The shock part of the result, though, is likely to be the support for the far right Alternative fur Deutschland (AfD) – which is about as close to being a fascist party as you can get. It is nationalist, racist – and strongly anti-Islam.
Merkel won praise last year for saying that Germany’s borders were open to people fleeing from war ravaged countries such as Syria – but the boost to her reputation was short lived.
After the Second World War, West Germany grew into one of the strongest economies in Europe. East Germany struggled, unable to invest. Over 25 years after reunification, the eastern part of the country is still struggling to catch up. Unemployment is still higher there than in the West, although some social benefits were lost when it reunified with West Germany in 1990.
It didn’t take long for the right to start blaming the new arrivals for the lack of economic progress and problems such as the continuing unemployment. There have also been high visibility stories blaming black and Asian arrivals for crime, particularly crimes of violence against women. Islam has been associated with these crimes to suggest it is only Muslim men who attack women and that Islam encourages such violence.
Associating the material conditions with an ideological attack is a tried and tested method used by the far right to whip up racism and win electoral support from voters who feel impoverished by economic conditions at the same time as visible refugees appear to be getting a better deal.
All the German mainstream parties have largely been frightened by the success of the right and have done little to counter their racism – leaving the way open for them to gain further support. Merkel responded to the exit polls today by saying that she would listen to the concerns of those who had voted for AfD – legitimising, rather than countering, their fears and political trajectory.
This rise in support for the right is most easily countered by the left – but the divided left in Germany is not really up to the task. It looks as if the largest left party, the SPD, is being punished for having formed a coalition with Merkel in the last Parliament. A similar scenario was seen in the recent French presidential elections, where the Socialist President Francois Hollande was so ineffectual that the voters turned to the right to seek a successor. On a smaller scale, the same thing happened in the UK in 2015, when voters punished the Lib-Dems for helping the Tories form a Coalition Government after the 2010 General Election resulted in a hung Parliament.
Germany has a party to the left of Labour – Die Linke (literally “the Left”), which looks to have won support from around 10% of the electorate. Many left wingers support the Green Party, which won a similar share of the vote. If combined, these parties could win around 40% of the vote – a good basis from which to try to form a Government. However, Germany does not have a tradition of a unified labour movement, unlike the UK, so this is unlikely to happen.
The final result in Germany has not yet been announced. When it is, it is likely to confirm that the country has moved to the right. That’s bad news for Germany and for Europe.