Stunning Surprise Looms in German Election: Nationalist Alternative for Germany Party Headed for Big Finish

A just-completed “Deutschland Trend” poll by ARD (German Radio) showed the CDU-CSU leading the SPD in seats for the Bundestag by a striking margin of 37% to 21%. If accurate, this means that the SPD – considered one of the two leading parties since Germany was West Germany from 1945 until it was re-unified with East Germany in 1990 – will have turned in its worst-ever performance in a federal election.

By John Gizzi

With days before German voters go to the polls September 24, all signs point to the outcome widely predicted when the national election campaign commenced earlier this year: Chancellor Angela Merkel and her CDU-CSU (conservative) Party will romp to a fourth consecutive triumph over the SPD (Social Democratic) Party.

But the truly big story of the German election may just be the likely third-place finisher, the relatively new (four years old) nationalist Alternative for Germany (AfD) Party, now shown by most polls to be running third on a hardline platform of expelling illegal immigrants and banning the burka.

In a year in which nationalist parties such as Marine LePen’s National Front (FN) and Geert Wilders’ Party for Freedom fared worse than expected at the polls in France and the Netherlands respectively, the AfD is headed for a strong showing in races for the 630 seats in the German Bundestag (parliament).

Such a showing is sure to attract worldwide coverage and give the AfD the status it so desperately needs to be considered a full-fledged voice of opposition to Merkel and her admission of nearly one million refugees to Germany. And it could demonstrate to the world that the “hardline” on illegal immigration is alive and well in Europe.

The British tabloid, The Sun, headlined the Berlin terrorist attack in December that killed 12 after a truck ploughed through the Christmas market, “THEY ARE MERKEL’S DEAD,” blaming the Chancellor’s “open door” migration policy.

Mutti and Martin

Admittedly, Merkel, 63, has been bruised by voter animosity because of the one-million-plus refugees in Germany since 2015. But she is nevertheless still perceived by the much of the electorate as “Mutti” (Mommy) or “the Iron Chancellor”—the lone politician capable of steering Germany through what appears to be a stormy future of an uncertain European economy, serious questions about admission of refugees, and Berlin’s complex relationship with Donald Trump’s Washington.

In contrast, the opposition SPD (Social Democratic) party has suffered because its leader, former European Parliament President Martin Schulz, never lived up to positive advance reviews when he became its nominee for chancellor.

Former North Rhine-Westphalia Mayor and bookseller Schulz’s manifesto of “social justice” calls for raising taxes on the rich and new investments in infrastructure. But in a country where employment and wages both rose this year, it just didn’t resonate.

In addition, after four years as junior partner in a “grand coalition” headed by Merkel’s CDU-CSU, the SPD has had a difficult time criticizing the status quo in Berlin. After all, they are part of it.

A just-completed “Deutschland Trend” poll by ARD (German Radio) showed the CDU-CSU leading the SPD in seats for the Bundestag by a striking margin of 37% to 21%. If accurate, this means that the SPD – considered one of the two leading parties since Germany was West Germany from 1945 until it was re-unified with East Germany in 1990 – will have turned in its worst-ever performance in a federal election.

Perhaps the “hidden story” of the German election lies in the remaining figures in the ARD survey. Five years after it was born, the nationalist Alternative for Germany Party (AfD) is now running third with 11%. Then comes the Linke (Far Left) Party with 10%, the libertarian Free Democrats at 9% and the environmentalist Greens 8%.

“There’s A Growing General Nervousness”

Reporting on Merkel’s twilight days on the stump, Martin Klingst, senior political correspondent for the venerable German publication Die Ziet, told this reporter that “she’s often confronted with loud protest, mainly coming from AfD-sympathizers.”

“Wherever Merkel gives speeches,” said Klingst, “and this is especially true in the Eastern parts of Germany, crowds of protesters show up and shout ‘Go away! Merkel must go!’ They call her a traitor and un-German.”

He added that “this is very unpleasant, and no one knows how this will translate on Election Day.”

Founded in April 2013, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) was initially a vehicle to protest the EU’s policy of not ejecting Member-nations that accumulate major debt such as Greece.

Over the next four years, AfD expanded its platform to become Germany’s premier anti-Establishment party: vowing to take Germany out of the Euro, secure the borders, and ban the burka for Muslim women.

Like LePen’s National Front and Geert Wilders’ Party for Freedom in the Netherlands, the AfD strongly favors a warmer relationship with Russia under Vladimir Putin. At events for cultivating the estimated 2.5 million Russian immigrants to Germany, the AfD offers German translations of Putin’s speeches.

In 2013, AfD fell just short of the 5% of the vote required for seats in the Bundestag. A year later, it scored handsomely in races for seats in the European Parliament. It has since won seats in 13 of the 16 state parliaments.

Regarding the AfD’s likely performance in this election, former German Defense Minister Karl Theodor zu Guttenberg told this reporter, “They have initially surged because of the refugee crisis and they are now profiting from the fact that the CDU and SPD are hard to distinguish. A two digit result is unfortunately not impossible.”

Die Ziet’s Klingst goes a step further: “People who tend to vote for more extreme parties and candidates often tend to not honestly reveal their choices in the surveys. I’m not sure myself, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the AfD gained between 10 and 14 %. And, as it has happened with Trump, it also happens with the AfD – they attract voters who’ve not voted for a long time.”

Like many growing parties, the AfD has its disparate personalities. Beatrix von Storch, one of its MEPs (Members of European Parliament), is considered a highly articulate spokesperson on the EU and economic issues, AfD Deputy Leader Alexander Gauland, 76, is an historian and past official in Merkel’s CDU. Former Goldman Sachs management consultant Alice Weidel, 38, leads the party’s lists for seats in the Bundestag. She also makes no secret about being a lesbian.

Other AfD leaders are more controversial. Bjorn Hocke, an AfD candidate from the eastern part of Germany, created a furor earlier this year when he said Germany should stop atoning for Hitler and the Nazis. Last year, Party Leader Frauke Petry made international news last year when she suggested the police “use firearms if necessary” to “prevent illegal border crossings.”

Trying to explain the sudden rise of the AfD, Martin Klingst commented: “You can observe many of the same frustrations you find among Trump voters: the feeling of belonging to the losers in a globalized world; anger at politicians who seem to be removed and disconnected to ordinary people and not concerned about social and financial problems; scape goating others for your problems; and of course real problems in daily life: competition with immigrants and refugees about low-paid jobs and affordable housing; living in areas where you are more confronted with the negative sides of immigration: rise of crimes, of street violence, of sexual assaults, of misbehavior.” He added, “There’s a growing general nervousness here.”

John Gizzi is the White House correspondent and chief political columnist for Newsmax. He is also a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis of the conservative-online-journalism center at the Washington-based Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research.

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