The far-right is no longer Germany’s main opposition party: how it has lost its strength

After its whirlwind entry into the German parliament in 2017, the far-right Alternative für Deutschland [Alternative for Germany, AfD] has lost its status as the main opposition force in Sunday’s elections, although it is still holding its own as the strongest party in some parts of eastern Germany.

What now: questions and answers on the German elections

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The party rose to fame for its anti-immigration campaign after the arrival of about a million refugees in 2015, but has recently focused on criticising the government’s handling of the pandemic. Nationally, it dropped just over 2 points, and managed 10.3% of the vote.

The party will lose a pre-eminence in parliament that allowed it to take the podium immediately after the chancellor’s speeches and which it often used to turn the parliamentary debate into an angry trench discussion. His place will now be taken by the party with the highest percentage of the vote that is left out of the government once the coalition negotiations are over.

Redoubt in the East

Still, the AfD consolidated its electoral base this Sunday in the eastern state of Saxony, where it again emerged as the strongest party with 24.6% (down 2.4 points from 2017); and for the first time it achieved the lead in Thuringia, with 24%, (up 1.3 points).

In Saxony, the far-right formation seems to have eaten into the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU), which had dismal results with a fall of almost 10 points and just over 17% of the vote, occupying third place behind the AfD and the Social Democrats (SPD).

In Thuringia, where the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution has the AfD under observation for alleged links to right-wing extremism, the CDU fell 12 percentage points to third place (16.9%), behind the SPD.

The AfD was founded in 2013 as a movement against the single European currency, but has since gained firm support among groups that went through economic hardship after German reunification. The idea of the “disadvantaged East” has become its central theme.

Analysts suggest that the AfD, which did not do much better in other constituencies, has exhausted its chances of growing beyond its stronghold in the former communist East. The argument is that it is perceived as a protest party with little chance of entering government, as the other parties rule out the possibility of an alliance with the AfD.

Internal fights

Within the party there are fights over the way forward, but its leadership suggests that the party is open to expanding the party’s potential by joining the CDU.

At an election day party in a Berlin nightclub, AfD members seemed to celebrate their relative success less than Merkel’s departure, presented as their own achievement despite it being a decision long planned, and largely by Merkel herself.

“Merkel is gone!” shouted Alexander Gauland, a former party leader, from the stage. An echo of the chant“Merkel raus” (Merkel out), which protest groups used to chant at election rallies and events attended by the outgoing chancellor. “Getting her out was our goal,” Gauland said to the applause of AfD supporters, “and today we have achieved it.”

With Armin Laschet as their candidate, the CDU conservatives have achieved their worst-ever result in a federal election. Gauland urged them to reverse their decision never to work with the AfD. He insisted that the CDU would be forced to “change course” if the SPD came to power.

It’s an idea that some CDU members have toyed with. On Sunday, it was demoIt was the failure of another conservative strategy: trying to beat the AfD at its own game by fielding an arch-conservative candidate in an AfD stronghold to win back voters, a move that, had it succeeded, could have become a blueprint for the party’s future.


Hans Georg Maaßen, former head of Germany’s national intelligence service, ran in Thuringia’s 196th constituency in the hope that his provocative tone and the clear right-wing orientation of his campaign would help the CDU win back voters from the AfD. But she barely managed to come in second place, and by the skin of her teeth: she only got one point more than the AfD and almost 12 percentage points less than the SPD candidate, former Olympian Frank Ullrich, who got 33.6%.

Another CDU candidate who was unsuccessful in Saxony was Marco Wanderwitz, the Ombudsman for eastern Germany, with a strategy opposite to that of Maaßen. He tried to distance himself from the AfD, but the way he stigmatized AfD supporters, declaring them “lost to a democratic system” after having been “socialized during the dictatorship”, backfired.

Tino Chrupalla, a painter by profession, beat his CDU rival to win the AfD the direct mandate for the Saxon town of Görlitz, on the Polish border, with 28.6% of the vote. He said he had “punished the CDU” and wanted to become party leader. He has already stated what one of his future goals will be: to fight for “the Dexit”, Germany’s exit from the European Union.

Translated by Francisco de Zárate

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