Germany’s far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) promised to “hunt” its political rivals when it entered the Bundestag in 2017. Four years on, though, the hunter has become the hunted.
The xenophobic party dropped 2.3 points to finish on 10.3 per cent in Sunday’s federal election, enough for 83 seats – down four. That dampened the mood somewhat at its election party on Sunday – in the car park of an east Berlin animal food producer.
AfD parliamentary party leader Alice Weidel, who finished in fifth place in her constituency with less than 9 per cent support, insisted she would “not let anyone talk down” the party’s result.
With that she glared across at AfD co-leader Jörg Meuthen, an AfD conservative-liberal fighting more extremist forces in his party.
Sunday’s election result – pushing it from third to fifth place in the Bundestag – has heated up a long-running cold war in the AfD that could end with its break-up.
While the party lost up to one fifth of its vote across western Germany, the AfD’s eastern wing – with more radical political messaging – took up to a quarter of the vote. In Saxony and Thuringia, it finished in first place.
Meuthen fears the party will mutate into an extremist “Lega Ost” – or vanish entirely; co-leader Tino Chrupalla insisted success in eastern Germany means “we’ve come to stay”.
Chrupalla scored one the party’s best results, topping the poll in Germany’s most easterly city, Görlitz, with nearly 29 per cent. “We are speaking to the middle of society,” he said.
Protest party support
Election analysts aren’t so sure. Born in the euro crisis, the AfD surged in the aftermath of the 2015/2016 refugee crisis but has struggled to profit from pandemic insecurity and anger at restrictions.
The AfD was unable to pull in significant support from any other parties apart from the hard-left Linke. A key problem for the far-right party in the future could be found in the grey “other parties” column on election night.
The number of Germans voting for one or other of its fringe parties jumped 75 per cent on 2017 to eight per cent on Sunday.
Record support for protest parties beyond the political mainstream has dissipated some of the AfD’s radical support.
AfD analysts say the party’s parliamentary presence has radicalised German politics, but left it unable to benefit from – or control – the extremist energy it has released. Most dangerous, say German intelligence, is the so-called Querdenker. This self-described “lateral thinker” group is a loose alliance of Covid-19 conspiracy theorists and libertarians.
A Querdenker sympathiser is currently on remand, accused of shooting dead last week a 20-year-old petrol station worker who asked him to wear a mask while buying beer.