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Another regional election defeat for Merkel, as German leader’s party beaten by right-wing AfD

RT | October 27, 2019

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) lost yet another regional election, coming behind both left-wing Linke and right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) in the eastern state of Thuringia.

It’s not the first time in 2019 that Germany’s ruling party has taken a hammering in local polls. Merkel’s CDU and its coalition partner, the left-wing Social Democrats (SPD) already saw their formerly safe lead in Saxony and Brandenburg eroded last month by the rise of the AfD.

The AfD, which surged from nothing into third place in 2017’s federal elections, took 23.8 percent of the vote in Thuringia, according to exit polls released Sunday. Merkel’s CDU took 22.5 percent. The left-wing Linke won the state, taking 29.7 percent of the vote.

At the back of the pack, the SPD took 8.5 percent, while the Greens took 5.4.

For the AfD, pipping the CDU into second place is a major coup, considering the party only managed to win 10 percent in the last election in 2014. Back then, the CDU was the overall winner, with 33.5 percent, though Linke, the SPD, and the Greens would band together to form a coalition government.

For the CDU and SPD, Sunday’s results are the worst since reunification three decades ago.

Thuringia is a small state with a population of 2.1 million that used to be part of the Eastern Bloc.

Though the CDU and SPD remain in power in the west of the country, the ruling centrists have seen their support eviscerated in the east, pointing to a culture clash of sorts between both sides of the old Cold War-era border. The east remains relatively disadvantaged compared to the west, and the AfD has courted the region’s electorate by opposing the closure of coal mines and calling for urban regeneration.

Linke too has positioned itself as a champion of the working class, promising increased social spending, a raised minimum wage, and tax increases on the wealthy.

Opposition to Merkel’s ‘open door’ immigration policies saw the AfD initially surge in popularity, after the chancellor welcomed more than a million migrants to Germany in 2015. Since then, the party has found support in the east, where public opinion against immigration is strongest.

And, while Germany’s green party enjoyed strong support in this summer’s European elections, its share of the vote remained stagnant in Thuringia, suggesting that the environmentalism currently in vogue in the west finds few fans in poorer parts of the country.

“Thuringians have voted for the Wende 2.0,” Bjoern Hoecke, the AfD’s leader in the state, said on Sunday. “This is a clear sign that a large part of Thuringia says: This can’t go on. We need renewal – this should be taken seriously.”

“Wende” is a German word meaning “turnaround,” and was used to describe the collapse of East Germany three deacdes ago. AfD leaders have repeatedly used the phrase on the campaign trail in eastern states, suggesting that the demise of Merkel’s centrism is every bit the revolution the fall of communism was.

With the center gutted and the AfD and Linke taking the most votes, there is little in common between both parties, save for a more friendly attitude to relations with Russia than Merkel’s. Both are currently enjoying more support than would have been imaginable in 2014, though every single mainstream German party has ruled out working with the AfD.

October 27, 2019 - Posted by | Economics | , ,

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