When the state parliaments in Bavaria and Hesse were voted on Sunday, almost a quarter of the eligible voters of the whole of Germany were involved in the elections. At the same time, roughly two years have passed since the last federal election, so the results of Sunday’s vote can be considered a sort of mid-term test of support for Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s government and the political mood in the country.
From the point of view of the three-color government coalition, the two provincial elections turned out very badly, and for Scholz’s Social Democrats (SPD) they were downright disastrous. The party, which won the federal election in 2021 with a margin of almost 26 percent, has fallen to historic lows in both regions (to about 15 percent in Hesse, to 8 percent in Bavaria). The Greens and Liberals (FDP) also suffered significant losses.
However, more than the loss of the governing coalition, nicknamed “traffic lights” after the party colors, the record gains of the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) are declining in Germany.
The fact that its support is growing not only in the territory of the former communist GDR, but also in the western, wealthier regions of the Federal Republic, was known thanks to surveys. The election results of a party that is officially scrutinized for extremism and is kept in political isolation by “traditional” parties, nevertheless came as a cold shower to many.
In the central German state of Hesse, where the center of European finance and air transport, Frankfurt am Main, is located, the AfD received over 18 percent and moved into second place behind the victorious Christian Democrats.
In Bavaria, the most economically powerful federal state, the AfD won 14.6 percent and placed third, but it should be taken into account that part of the “alternatively”-minded citizens in this region vote for the Free Voters group. They finished second behind the Christian Socialists (CSU).
“Our record-breaking results justify our policy,” she rejoiced with AfD co-chair Alice Weidelová on social networks after the announcement of the election results. At Monday’s press conference, she emphasized that the party received more votes across different social and age groups.
“AfD is a pan-German national party. Insulating us from government responsibility won’t work forever,” Weidel said.
The leaders of the AfD have already begun to think aloud about the fact that the party will put up its own candidate for chancellor, and thus officially aspire to victory in the all-German elections. Meanwhile, the self-confidence of AfD politicians could grow even more. In the east of Germany – in Saxony, Thuringia and Brandenburg, where the AfD has recently been leading in the polls, state elections will be held next year.
According to commentators, it has been confirmed that the opponents of the populists have long been unable to deal with their radical approach in areas such as migration, energy prices, the fight against climate change or friendly attitudes towards Russia. “All the strategies of the political parties to keep the AfD down or to ignore it have failed,” stated the public broadcaster ZDF.
It is not known whether the strange events of the pre-election week, when the party reported on a violent attack on its co-chairman Tino Chrupalla and his hospitalization with a stab wound, had any effect on the AfD result. His colleague Alice Weidelová was supposed to flee to safety at the same time. However, investigators disputed the attack and Weidel was in fact staying in Mallorca.
AfD and right-wing extremism
According to the latest annual report of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, i.e. Germany’s civilian counter-intelligence, manifestations of right-wing extremism intensified within the AfD last year.
“Ethno-cultural understanding of people as well as xenophobic, anti-minority and anti-Muslim and Islamophobic attitudes are manifested in the statements of the party and a number of its representatives,” the report said.
According to the office, about 10,000 AfD members are prone to right-wing extremism, which is roughly a third of its membership base. In this context, the report refers to the head of the party group in the Thuringian state assembly, Björn Höcke, and his former nationalist faction.
The consensus is that the topic on which the Alternative for Germany gained new votes, primarily at the expense of the government coalition, was migration in the first place. This year, the Federal Republic is facing the largest wave of asylum seekers since the refugee crisis around 2015, accommodation capacities are full in many places, and German municipalities and regions lack money to care for refugees. In post-election polls, 59 percent of people in Bavaria and 53 percent in Hesse said that Germany could no longer handle such a high number of refugees.
These fears and dissatisfaction with the federal government were also manifested in the debacle of Interior Minister Nancy Faeserová from the SPD, who ran in Hesse and was thinking of the seat of state premier. However, the politician who is in charge of German migration policy failed not only as the leader of the candidate, but also in her constituency, where she finished third.
Criticism is also aimed at the head of the federal government, Scholz, who has long been seen as a not very prominent politician and often takes a similar approach to problems as he does to the results of Sunday’s regional elections – at first he remains silent for a long time.