On Sunday, Angela Merkel suffered a bitter defeat at the ballot box in state elections that effectively served as a referendum on Berlin’s open-door migrant policy.
Exit polls showed support for the Chancellor’s CDU falling in Baden-Wuerttemberg, in Saxony-Anhalt, and in Rhineland-Palatinate versus 2011. Those results were validated as CDU lost ground versus the last election across the board.
The big winner on the day: Alternative for Germany or, AfD. The anti-immigration, nationalists didn’t manage to win the most votes in any of the three states in contention, but their strong showing - especially in Saxony-Anhalt, where they managed to win 24.2% of the vote represented a resounding rebuke of Germany’s official stance on Mid-East asylum seekers.
"The CDU finished several percentage points behind the popular incumbents’ parties in both states and dropped 12 percentage points to a record-low result in Baden-Wuerttemberg, with 27 percent support," The Washington post writes. "Its performance in Rhineland-Palatinate, with 31.8 percent, was also a record low."
So far, the AfD has won seats in half of Germany's regional assemblies and that, Blooomberg says, "shows that Germany is no longer immune to the allure of right-wing populism."
AfD leader Frauke Petry doesn't necessarily agree with that assessment. "We are seeing above all in these elections that voters are turning away in large numbers from the big established parties and voting for our party,” she said, adding that "they expect us finally to be the opposition that there hasn’t been in the German parliament and some state parliaments." Here's a tweet from Petry:
— Frauke Petry (@FraukePetry) March 14, 2016
“We have fundamental problems in Germany that led to this outcome,” she insisted on ARD television. “Now we want to force the other parties into a substantive debate.”
For her part, Merkel attempted to address the obvious implications of the outcome with regard to public sentiment without fully admitting that perhaps her approach will need to be reimagined before the right becomes further ascendant. "The dominant issue was the refugee crisis and refugee policy,” the Chancellor told reporters in Berlin. "Voters determined that there has been no satisfying resolution."
Actually that's not true. Voters seem to have determined that her particular resoution has not been satisfying.
For his part, Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel is concerned about the rise of AfD, much as the American political establishment is concerned about Trump. “The democratic center in our country has not become stronger, but smaller, and I think we must all take that seriously,” he said on Sunday.
"The rise of the AfD in Germany mirrors growing support for populist politicians such as National Front leader Marine Le Pen in France and Trump, who has called for banning Muslims from emigrating to the U.S.," Bloomberg writes, echoing Gabriel's sentiments in a piece called "Germans Turn To Trump-Style Politics In Challenge To Merkel". "Like Trump," they continue, "Petry regularly gets the media to hang on her every word a tongue-lashing [and] has urged Germans to have three children to reduce the need for immigration and suggested German policy is driven by Holocaust guilt."
Of course the success of AfD isn't the only sign that the right-wing is resurgent. There's also PEGIDA, whose rallies we have covered extensively and whose former leader posted a picture of himself on Facebook dressed as Hitler.
Just last week, the group marched in Leipzig to celebrate AfD's success. Lutz Bachmann - and this would be the very same Lutz Bachmann who appeared on Facebook as The Führer last year - spoke at the rally and suggested he would try to ally with AfD. Perhaps seeking to retain some semblance of political correctness, Petry respectfully refused. Here's a bit more color from The Guardian on Sunday's historic ballots:
"Germany’s rightwing upstarts appeared to have benefited from an increased voter turnout across the country. In all three states, the AfD gained most of its votes from people who had not voted before, rather than disillusioned CDU voters. In Saxony-Anhalt, as many as 40% of AfD voters were previously non-voters, while 56% of AfD voters in the state said they had opted for the party because of the refugee crisis, according to one poll.
Andre Poggenburg, the AfD’s lead candidate in Saxony-Anhalt, said: “We have achieved something very important: we have mobilised many non-voters to take part in the election, something the established parties have failed to do.” The party’s deputy leader, Alexander Gauland, supporters at a rally on Sunday night that his party would “chase the old parties to hell”.
Merkel doesn't agree. Last week, she called AfD a "temporary phenomenon."
Trust us, Petry will only prove "temporary" to the extent that Merkel's refugee policy proves transitory as well.