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What Alternative for Germany’s Success Means

Mainstream parties lose support and the political landscape becomes increasingly unpredictable.

Far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) made strong gains in elections in Saxony and Brandenburg in Germany on Sunday.

The strong shift to the right in these two crucial east German states is a blow to the ruling coalition of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) and the Social Democrats (SPD). The two parties are allies in Angela Merkel’s “grand coalition”.

The results reflect the worrying trend not only in Germany but elsewhere in Europe: mainstream parties lose support while the overall political landscape becomes increasingly unpredictable.

The outcome of the vote means that although CDU and SPD are likely to be able to stay in power, they will require the support of the Greens to form coalition governments.

It is remarkable that the AfD managed to mobilise several hundred thousand people who had never voted before. Turnout was significantly higher than at the last elections in the states in 2014 – up 12 points to 60% in Brandenburg and up 16 points to 65% in Saxony.

Although the CDU remains the strongest party in Saxony with 33%, it lost more than six points while the AfD gained 18 percentage points and reached 28.1%.

In Brandenburg, the SPD, which has governed there since 1990, got only 26.6% while AfD secured 24.5%.

It is the worst result for each party since German reunification in 1990.

Formed in 2013 as an anti-euro party, AfD managed to capitalise on the back of its opposition to the arrival in Germany of almost 1 million refugees in 2015.

Another reason is the de facto split of one country into two, east and west.

Many residents of East Germany, Ossis as they are called here, feel like "second-class" citizens. After the reunification of Germany hundreds of local factories were closed and tens of thousands of people lost their jobs. Some rural areas went into terminal decline.

Many afraid of a new wave of economic turmoil after a decision by the government in Berlin to shut the mining and burning of lignite, a particularly polluting form of coal, by 2038.

The Lausitz, a large lignite-producing area in Brandenburg and Saxony where lignite has been produced since the 18th century, will be one of the worst affected places.

The grand coalition says it will cushion the effect with €40 billion of structural aid but many residents afraid it won’t be enough. Moreover, they tend to see it as the continuation of the policy of marginalization of East Germany.

The AfD is the only party that opposes to the shutdown.

Published: September 2, 2019