Kate Connolly, The Guardian, October 9, 2023
The far-right, anti-immigration Alternative für Deutschland has declared itself a “major all-German party” after winning its biggest ever vote share in a western German state.
The AfD, once seen as a party most relevant to post-communist eastern states, won 18.4% of the vote on Sunday in the powerhouse state of Hesse, around Frankfurt, and came second only to the Christian Democratic Union (CDU). In Bavaria it came third, behind the rightwing populist Freie Wähler (Free Voters) party.
Alice Weidel, the co-leader of the AfD, said the gains were a breakthrough moment, showing that “AfD is no longer an eastern phenomenon, but has become a major all-German party. So we have arrived.”
The three parties that make up the coalition government of the chancellor, Olaf Scholz – his Social Democrats, the Greens and the pro-business FDP – received a drubbing in the two elections, with the FDP failing to get into parliament in Bavaria.
Political analysts and politicians themselves were quick to blame the actions of the central government for the poor showing, with dissatisfaction expressed over everything from its building heating reforms to the cost of living crisis and post-pandemic labour shortages.
The political future of Nancy Faeser, the interior minister who ran as the main candidate for the SPD in Hesse, was in doubt after the party’s dismal performance there, even as Scholz said he would stand behind her.
Around a quarter of all German voters live in Hesse and Bavaria.
In Bavaria, the Greens lost 3.2% of their previous vote share, the SPD 1.3% and the FDP 2.1%. In Hesse, the results were even worse, with the SPD losing 4.7%, the Greens 5%, and the FDP 2.5%.
In contrast, the AfD made a gain of 5.3% in Hesse, while in Bavaria it gained 4.4%, bringing it to 14.6%.
Manfred Güllner, the head of the Forsa polling institute, attributed the far right’s success to “the huge alienation between the governing parties in Berlin and the many normal working people”. The ruling administration ignored their concerns at their peril, he added.
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In Bavaria, in particular, concerns over immigration played a considerable role in the way people voted, with 83% choosing parties promising a change in immigration and asylum policy. In polling, 21% of people in Bavaria said migration was the most important issue in deciding how they voted; and this was the case for 18% in Hesse.
Markus Söder, the head of the Christian Social Union, which has ruled in Bavaria for decades and secured the most votes, with 37% – albeit the party’s historically worst result – said voters had sent an “alarm signal” to Berlin. “The topic of migration is a purely federal issue, not a regional policy issue,” he said. He added the only way to halt the growth of the AfD was to “change Germany’s migration policy”.
Economic development, climate and energy were other dominating factors in the elections. A need to boost economic growth was most strongly expressed in Hesse, home to the financial centre of Frankfurt.