Anti-euro party celebrates gains in eastern Germany


BERLIN: Germany’s fledgling anti-euro party celebrated election gains in two eastern states Sunday (Monday in Manila), in a show of strength that spells a growing threat for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives.

“We are the force that’s renewing the political landscape,” said a jubilant Bernd Lucke, leader of the Alternative for Germany (AfD), which wants Europe’s biggest economy to scrap the euro and return to the Deutschmark currency.

“One can’t deny it anymore: the citizens are thirsting for political change,” said the economics professor, cheered on by applauding supporters in Potsdam, the state capital of Brandenburg.

His nascent party, which was only formed early last year, won 10.6 percent of the vote in Thuringia state and 12.2 percent in Brandenburg, according to provisional results.

The results came two weeks after the AfD also entered parliament in the eastern state of Saxony with almost 10 percent support.

“There’s anger in the air,” opined the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper, saying that all the main parties faced a challenge from the AfD, although ly Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) came first in Thuringia and increased their share of the vote in Brandenburg.

The Social Democrats (SPD) easily cruised to victory in Brandenburg, the state that encircles Berlin, where they have been in power since Germany’s reunification.

CDU secretary general Peter Tauber agreed that the AfD poses “a challenge for all parties”.

He stressed in a tweet that “we don’t see the AfD as a partner”.

Analysts had predicted the AfD would draw much of the protest vote in the former East Germany, which still lags western states in wealth, jobs and wages 25 years after the Berlin Wall fell.

The results give a political toehold to the party which only narrowly missed out on entering the national parliament last September and won seven seats in European Parliament elections in May.

The AfD denies seeking hardline right-wing voters, but flirts with populist ideas on issues such as law and order, immigration and traditional social values.

Among its demands are a referendum that would seek to block plans to build a mosque in the eastern city of Dresden.

“Their protest draws on threat scenarios, be it refugee boats on the Mediterranean, Brussels bureaucrats or criminals at Germany’s eastern borders,” said the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

Merkel, worried about the AfD’s growing ballot box appeal, this week said that “we must address the problems that concern the people” including “crime and rising numbers of asylum seekers”.

Analysts say the AfD has positioned itself to the right of Merkel’s CDU while keeping its distance from the far-right fringe.

Political scientist Werner Patzelt of Dresden Technical University said “the CDU is now well advised to keep its nerve”.

“It remains to be seen whether the AfD turns out, in parliamentary practice, to be a flash in the pan or whether it proves itself in the political process without allowing itself to be hijacked by right-wing populists and far-right extremists”.

Patzelt said the AfD’s central theme — railing against eurozone bailouts and an emerging EU “super state” — is unlikely to go away soon and that such fears are mirrored in other European countries.

Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble earlier dismissed the AfD as populists who offer simple slogans that appeal to disgruntled citizens.

“I just call them demagogues,” said Schaeuble. “You can’t shape the future with them.”

Another party that made gains in Thuringia was the far-left Linke party, which groups former eastern Communists and anti-capitalists.

It scored 28.2 percent in Thuringia — second only to the CDU’s 33.5 percent — potentially giving it a shot at power in a three-party coalition government there for the first time since German reunification.

A tie-up between the Linke, Social Democrats (SPD) and the Greens was possible — but so was an alliance between CDU and the SPD, leaving the door open to days of haggling to form a government.

A “red-red-green” government would be the first in Germany where the far-left party would be the senior partner — a threat that has led Merkel to warn that “Karl Marx would return” to the state government.

So far the SPD has rejected a national level tie-up with the Linke, whose policy positions include a basic salary for everybody, a ban on any German military missions abroad and the dissolution of NATO.



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