With nearly 1 million refugees admitted to Germany last year alone and 220,000 asylum-seekers arriving since January 1 (according to Deutsche Welle News), the AfD is almost certain to be a major player in the 2017 national elections.
By John Gizzi | September 5, 2016
Leif-Erik Holm, the AfD leader in Mecklenburg-West Pomerania CREDIT: JENS BUTTNER/AFP/GETT
The breath-taking results from elections in Germany’s Mecklenburg-Vorpommern province Sunday pointed to stormy sailing ahead for Chancellor Angela Merkel and her controversial policy of open borders with widespread admission of refugees to Germany.
Moreover, like Donald Trump’s nomination for President by Republicans in the U.S. and the UK’s “Brexit” vote to leave the European Union, the stunning second-place showing by the nationalist Alternative for Germany (AfD) Party sent an unmistakable message that German voters were growing tired of the German political “establishment” symbolized by their two ruling parties.
In results that topped news reports worldwide, the five-year-old AfD actually got more votes than Merkel’s CDU (Conservative) Party in races for seats in the provincial parliament. With the SPD (Social Democrats) drawing 30 percent of the vote, the AfD 21.8 percent, and the CDU 19 percent, the insurgent nationalists topped Merkel’s party for the first time in any race in Germany.
In all likelihood, the CDU and SPD will have enough seats to maintain their “grand coalition” in Mecklenberg-Vorpommern. This is a mirror image of the ruling government in Berlin, in which the two largest parties in Germany govern with Merkel as chancellor and SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel as vice chancellor and economics minister.
But whoever winds up in power in the province, the big news Sunday is that Merkel’s party fell behind an insurgent party that is a mere five years old.
The AfD’s message was a powerful one: all-out opposition to Merkel’s increasingly controversial policy of widespread political asylum for refugees to Germany.
In addition, the AfD had a local leader, Leif-Erik Holm, who was a super salesman. Like Trump in the GOP primaries who awakened thousands of dissatisfied citizens to come to the polls, Holm energized voter turnout.
Beatrix von Storch, a founder of AfD who became the first AfD MEP in 2015, told SFPPR News & Analysis, “We gained most of our votes from non-voters (60,000 from 180,000), which means we are activating people to participate in democracy again. And, it shows there are still millions more to win for us.”
A polished radio announcer, Leif-Erik Holm convinced voters through highly-effective on-line videos.
“Mrs. Merkel says ‘No, we cannot protect our borders, but we give [Turkish President] Erdoğan, 6 billions to protect his own,” Holm says as he is filmed taking a walk with stirring background music, “It shouldn’t be acceptable that a country cannot protect its borders.”
Holm goes on to quote Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman: “Either one has open borders or an extensive welfare state—both together don’t work.”
That message and its messenger clearly resonated in the province of 1.6 million that went to the polls Sunday. In its fifth year, the AfD is represented in nine of the nation’s parliaments as well as the European Parliament. On September 18, international pundits will be following the municipal elections in Berlin to see if the AfD’s success continues.
When the AfD competed in national elections in 2014, it barely missed the 5 per cent of the vote that is the threshold for seats in the Bundestag (federal parliament). With nearly 1 million refugees admitted to Germany last year alone and 220,000 asylum-seekers arriving since January 1 (according to Deutsche Welle News), the AfD is almost certain to be a major player in the 2017 national elections.