German Chancellor Angela Merkel has succeeded in clinching a fourth term and retaining her conservative Christian union (CDU-CSU) bloc’s dominant role in national politics but with a weakened mandate. There has been a considerable erosion of her support base. Merkel’s victory has also been eclipsed by an unexpected surge of far-right Alternative fuer Deutschland (AfD), which even missed the electoral threshold of five percent at the last election; this time around it has secured more than 13 percent of the vote and is expected to get as many as 94 seats in Bundestag. For the first time since WWII, a hard-right outfit has been able to secure parliamentary representation. Resentment towards the eurosceptic AfD’s meteoric rise has reportedly spilt over on to the streets in Germany in the form of protests. One is reminded of the reaction of some Americans to Donald Trump’s victory at the last US presidential election.Cartoon from Daily Mirror
It is not only the CDU-CSU combine which has become less attractive to the electorate. The centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), led by former European Parliament president Martin Schulz, has also faced a decline in its popularity. This has enabled the AfD to gain considerable traction in national politics and emerge as the third force. It has fared reasonably well at regional elections as well. Thirteen out of the 16 regional parliaments now have AfD representatives and it is the second largest party in the Sachsen-Anhalt region. This is a scary trend. The German Jewish community has expressed shock and dismay at the unexpected electoral gains of the AfD. Charlotte Knobloch, chairwoman of the Munich Jewish community and a former president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, minced no words when she described the strong showing of the far-right party as a ‘nightmare come true’.
The outcome of the German election is an indication that Germans are not all too happy about the way Merkel has handled the refugee and euro zone crises among other things though she has received international plaudits for her bold steps. It is doubtful whether her moderate policies, which have helped retain the reputation of Germany as a gentle giant in the post-war period and gone down well with the international community, have been an effective antidote to neo-Nazism. The possibility of the AfD gaining more ground in German politics cannot be ruled out as both the CDU-CSU bloc and the SPD are not likely to be able to better their performance significantly in the foreseeable future. This is an unnerving proposition.
The CDU-CSU combine’s inability to form a stable government on its own as well as the resurgence of neo-Nazism in electoral politics is likely to have unforeseen politico-economic and socio-cultural ramifications. The entry of AfD into Bundestag for the first time is seen as the breaking of a taboo, given social stigma attached to far-right activism. One of its key figures, Alex Gauland, has publicly stated that Germans should be proud of what their soldiers did in both world wars! It is also known for its antipathy towards Muslims and immigrants. Abandoning the euro and returning to the Deutschmark are also high on its agenda. These issues Germany, the economic powerhouse of Europe, has had to contend with, are bound to cause some serious concerns not only to the euro zone but also to the rest of the world.
A cocky Gauland lost no time in declaring after the polls results were announced: “We will hunt Merkel! We want to bring our country and people back.” Merkel’s reaction to the rise of the AfD was sober and exuded political maturity. She undertook to win back, with good policies, the voters who had switched their allegiance to the hard-right party. She has to do so fast for the sake of Germany, one of the few world powers which act responsibly. Let her be wished well in her endeavour!