German federal elections are Sunday, September 24. The most likely outcome of the election is another “Grand Coalition” but it will be a much-weakened coalition. And If that coalition forms again, the rightwing AfD party is poised to become the largest opposition party.
Rightwing Turning Point
The Wall Street Journal reports Nationalist AfD Party Moves Into Third Place in German Election Polls
A last-minute surge in the polls has put a far-right party that wants to dial down German remembrance of the Holocaust within striking distance of becoming the country’s biggest opposition force.
The four-year-old Alternative for Germany, or AfD, has moved into third place and double digits in recent polls. If those numbers hold up until the Sept. 24 election and German Chancellor Angela Merkel repeats her current governing coalition with the center-left Social Democrats, the AfD would become the biggest opposition party in parliament.
No matter how exactly the results shake out, Sunday’s election seems assured to represent a turning point in postwar German history. Ms. Merkel’s center-right Christian Democrats are set to finish first, and she is expected to remain chancellor. But the AfD, polls show, is very likely to become the first far-right party in more than half a century to win seats in parliament.
“If the AfD in fact gets into the Bundestag, Nazis will be speaking in the Reichstag [building] for the first time in more than 70 years,” Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel recently told German magazine, Der Spiegel.
Political scientists say while the AfD isn’t a neo-Nazi party, it includes a right-wing-radical wing that appears to be strengthening. And without question, the anti-immigrant party breaks taboos in a country that has resisted right-wing populism for decades in the shadow of the Nazi era.
In parliament, AfD lawmakers would receive state financing to hire new staff and to set up offices in their districts, increasing the party’s nationwide reach. They would hold key seats on legislative committees, make nationally televised speeches, and be able to send official inquiries to the government, which ministries are required to answer.
Polls suggest the AfD draws voters from across the political spectrum who are unhappy with mainstream politics, particularly on immigration. A strong showing by the AfD could complicate things for Ms. Merkel by preventing her from being able to form a governing coalition with just one of two smaller parties, the pro-business Free Democrats or the environmentalist Greens. Instead, she may well need to form an unwieldy three-way coalition including them both—despite their ideological differences—and her conservative bloc. Repeating her current “grand coalition” with the Social Democrats would require her to overcome misgivings in both parties.
For many international observers Germany is the exception: In times of Donald Trump, Brexit and Emmanuel Macron, Germans seem to live on another continent of social peace and political harmony. There is nothing of the desire for renewal witnessed during the French elections, or the desire to distinguish themselves shown by the Brexit vote. There is no major populist insurgency. Controversial subjects of our times like terrorism, refugees, immigration, military engagement, or nationalism, are avoided, observes Jean-Dominique Giuliani, president of the Robert Schuman Foundation.
But this peace is superficial, notes Philippe Rocard in Le Monde. There are about 20-30% frustrated voters in Germany, angry about Angela Merkel and her motto “Wir schaffen das” (we can make it) in immigration policy, or her handouts to bailout countries during the eurozone crisis. The three parties that capture the rising protest are the AFD, Die Linke and even the FDP with its radicalised discourse against Greece.
The rise of the AfD, which looks like it could become the third strongest party only four years after its foundation, would be a turning point in postwar German history, notes the WSJ. Never since the 1950s has a far-right party cleared the 5% hurdle. According to the recent polls, the AfD could get as many as 89 out of 703 seats. With its xenophobic and nationalistic rhetoric, the party breaks taboos in a country that has resisted right-wing populism for decades. To be fair, these numbers are still small compared to Austria where the Freedom party is polling 25%, or France where Marine Le Pen received 34% in the presidential run-off. But for Germany it is a major shift.
CDU (36) + FDP (22) would have a total percentage of about 58%. But many in SPD would prefer the SPD to be in opposition. Should that develop, SPD would be the largest opposition party.
If SDP chooses opposition, Merkel could form a majority government via an alliance of CDU (36), the Greens (7), and FDP (9). Currently, that alliance would have a bare majority with 52% of the vote.
Regardless of what happens, Merkel will be in a much-weakened position compared to now.
And other than a miracle CDU/FDP finish that achieves more than 50%, it may take quite some time after the election for the next government to form.