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Hard-right AfD now 3rd biggest German party

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AfD firebrand Björn Höcke. Photo: DPA
12:07 CET+01:00
Germany's hard-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) are now the third most popular party in the country, according to a poll released on Tuesday.

In a sign of the sharp rise of the far-right in Germany over recent weeks, the INSA survey gave the AfD 10.5 percent of the vote if an election were to be held tomorrow - meaning they leapfrogged the Green Party and Die Linke (Left party).

The AfD was founded in 2013 as a Eurosceptic group, critical of the Euro currency and bailouts, but after an internal party feud in which its founder was deposed earlier in 2015, it has focused on criticizing the government's immigration policies.

Katja Kipping, chairwoman of Die Linke, told The Local that the Christian Social Union (CSU), a junior party in Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition, was to blame for the rise of the AfD, accusing their leadership of making "xenophobic slogans socially acceptable."

The CSU, which are the single largest party in Bavaria, Germany's wealthiest and southern most state, have in recent weeks called for the erection of border fences to stem the flow of refugees arriving in Germany.

"The AfD is also profiting from the impression that people in need could overwhelm a rich country like Germany – but this is a fictictious emergency: the releveant authorities at the federal level didn't react quickly enough to the predictable rise in refugee numbers,“ Kipping added.

Hitler comparisons

The party has been prominent in the media in recent weeks after its most firebrand leader drew comparisons with Hitler due to his aggressive nationalistic rhetoric.

Björn Höcke, party chief in the eastern state of Thuringia, has created headlines with proclamations at crowded rallies in the state capital of Erfurt, such as: "Thuringians! Germans! Three thousand years of Europe, 1,000 years of Germany."

Despite being despised in editorial rooms in Hamburg and Berlin, the teacher and father of four has struck a chord with voters in the east of the country where fears about immigration are particularly pronounced.

Critics say there is little to distinguish Höcke from Pegida, a xenophobic movement which draws thousands on the streets of the eastern city of Dresden every Monday, calling for an end to "the Islamization of the Occident".

The INSA poll puts the AfD in double digits for the first time in the party's short history and marks a sharp turnaround in just the space of months, after they were stagnating on 3.0 percent in August polling.

Early in the summer, the party's more moderate leader and founder Bernd Lucke left in a war of words, accusing colleagues of slipping into right-wing populism.

Within the space of a month they have increased their share of the vote by three percent from 7.5 percent on October 19th, apparently capitalizing on infighting within the ruling coalition government on how to go forward with its refugee policy.

'Authentic position'

"The AfD stand for an authentic position in terms of refugees and migration," Hermann Binkert, head of INSA told The Local. "Voters who don't agree with [Merkel's] CDU go to the AfD because all the other parties stand for the Willkommenskultur."

Willkommenskultur is how Germans describe a welcoming policy towards refugees.

Binkert said it was impossible to say how long-term the AfD's success is, but argued that it was closely tied to the refugee crisis.

"If the refugee issue were to be solved then the central reason why people are saying they'd vote for them would also disappear," he said.

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"But at the moment I can't see the refugee crisis being solved."

Since August, Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) together with Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union (CSU) have slumped eight points in polling from 43 percent to 35 percent.

The fall in popularity has been accentuated by squabbling between Merkel and CSU chief Horst Seehofer on whether to start limiting Germany's intake of refugees.

Seehofer has consistently called for an upper limit to be set on the amount of refugees Germany is prepared to take, while Merkel has insisted that as long as people are fleeing from war, Germany will provide them with sanctuary.

INSA head Binkert explained though that the AfD are winning votes from across the political spectrum, even from the left-wing Linke party.

"German society is deeply divided on the refugee issue and this division runs through the parties as well as through German society,“ he said.

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