Far Right AfD Surge And SPD Collapse As Merkel Wins Fourth Term As German Chancellor

Angela Merkel, the incumbent Chancellor of Germany, has won a fourth term, following the September 24th general elections in the country. It is projected that her party, the centre-right CDU (Christian Democratic Union) and its sister party, the CSU (Christian Social Union), received approximately 34.5 percent of the popular vote, which is a decrease from the 41.5 percent they received in the 2013 election. The centre-left SPD (Social Democratic Party) received 21.4 percent, also a decrease from 25.7 percent in 2013. The far-right AfD (Alternative for Germany) entered the Bundestag with this election, garnering 13.3 percent, which marked a significant improvement for the young party founded in 2013. It rose to prominence with its anti-immigration stance and opposition to Merkel’s policies regarding migrants.

While she addressed her supporters following her re-election, Merkel acknowledged people who voted for AfD and the surge in AfD support with “There’s a big new challenge for us, and that is the entry of the AfD in the Bundestag.” She added that “We want to win back AfD voters.” SPD leader Martin Schulz stated that the results were a “bitter disappointment.” Furthermore, the SPD decided not to continue to be a part of the coalition that existed prior to this election, citing the difficulty in combating CDU/CSU in the election because of the link of the SPD to Merkel’s policies, along with the need for SPD to be the official opposition instead of AfD, who now had the third-highest number of seats in the Bundestag. AfD’s local party leader in Berlin, George Pazderski, said that “For the first time, we have a conservative party right beside our Christian Democrats and this is because they moved more and more to the left and we moved into the vacuum.” Leading AfD figure Alice Weidel reiterated to her supporters that she would keep her promise to call for a committee to investigate Merkel’s decision in 2015 to allow more than one million refugees into Germany. She said that “People have given us their trust and we will keep our promise.”

The rise of AfD in Germany, which has culminated in them having seats in the Bundestag, marks the first time a far-right party had representation there since 1960 and is a concerning development, given the platform and stances of the party. Their hardline stances against immigration and diversity, along with their propagation of racism and xenophobia, is an attack on human rights. With the refugees in question being from the Middle East, and predominantly Muslim, Islamophobia has become a major mechanism for the party, replacing the earlier emphasis on Euroscepticism. The shift in the direction of the party led to the ousting of the founder, Bernd Lucke, and other moderates, as anti-immigrant nationalism became central to the party. With the immigration issue in Germany, it is very important for the political body, including the other major parties, to protect and empower refugees and immigrants while combatting such attacks against them. The other parties cannot try to vie for AfD voters by trying to propose hardline policies of their own, which is why the reaction of Merkel is a possible concern in terms of the possible direction that the CDU/CSU will take from now.

The results of this election point to an emerging far-right in many places within Europe, as voices expressing those beliefs, are growing stronger in power. However, it is important to take important steps now to address such challenges, given that these movements are still relatively fractured. The issue of these parties influencing the direction of other parties in terms of their attitudes towards issues such as immigration is also a concerning prospect. These attitudes towards foreigners, which are shaped strongly by various biases and stereotypes, need to be consistently and strongly challenged, as they are a significant obstacle to the development of more just, inclusive, and cohesive societies.