(German elections) Right wing party set to enter corridors of power

World | 13 Sep 2017 8:48 pm

A nationalist party that wants Germany to close its borders to migrants, leave Europe’s common currency and end sanctions against Russia is predicted to enter Parliament for the first time this month, propelled by voters’ anger at Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to let over a million refugees into the country since 2015.

Alternative for Germany, or AfD, is forecast to take between 8 and 11 percent of the vote on September 24, giving it dozens of lawmakers in the national Parliament. Some polls even project that it could even come third behind Merkel’s party and the center-left Social Democrats.

If the predictions are correct, it would be the first time in 60 years that a party (pictured, suporters) to the right of Merkel’s conservative Union bloc has attracted enough votes to enter the Bundestag.

"It’s quite an achievement for a right-wing party to clear the 5-percent minimum threshold,” said Gideon Botsch, a political scientist at the University of Potsdam near Berlin.

AfD’s poll numbers are all the more remarkable because the party has become increasingly extreme since its founding in 2013, he said.

"German voters haven’t wanted to vote for a right-wing party in recent decades,” Botsch said. "Germany’s Nazi history is obviously one of the reasons for that.”

At an election rally last week in the southwestern city of Pforzheim, the mostly male, middle-aged audience gave a standing ovation to party co-leader Alexander Gauland, a 76-year-old former civil servant who sparked controversy last year by saying that Germans don’t want to live next to a black football player.

Gauland, a former member of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, made headlines again recently for suggesting that the government’s integration czar should be "disposed of” in Turkey, where her family emigrated from before she was born.

In Pforzheim, Gauland touched on a subject the party’s supporters are particularly anxious about: the influx of migrants from Muslim-majority countries such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Only if we defend Europe against a new Islamic invasion,” he told the crowd, "do we have a chance to remain a majority in this country and survive.”

Gauland’s anti-Islam comments fell on fertile ground in Pforzheim, at the northern tip of Germany’s Black Forest. His party achieved a surprise victory there in last year’s regional election. It now has seats in 13 state assemblies and the European Parliament.Observers say AfD benefited from Pforzheim’s large population of so-called Russlanddeutsche — ethnic Germans who emigrated from the former Soviet Union and hold more conservative views than the general population.

One such voter, Waldemar Meister, said he thinks AfD is the only party that listens to ordinary people’s concerns. "We’re lied to, we’re deceived (by the other parties),” he said.

According to Timo Lochocki, a Berlin-based researcher at the German Marshall Fund think tank, AfD’s success is partly due to the disillusionment voters feel with Germany’s established political parties — a development that mirrors Britain’s vote to leave the European Union and the rise of U.S. President Donald Trump, whose election AfD enthusiastically endorsed.

Nico Siegel, head of the infratest dimap polling agency, said more than half of people who vote for AfD say they did so out of dissatisfaction with other parties, drawing votes from all the others.

"The AfD is like a vacuum cleaner for those unsatisfied with the other parties,” he said.-AP

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