A little over a year ago, few people gave Germany’s controversial, right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party any chance of making a dent in German national elections. In recent months, the party suffered through several embarrassing internal spats and saw its polling numbers sink amid growing support for Chancellor Angela Merkel.
But AfD is now poised to become Germany’s third largest political party after Sunday’s elections. Opinion polls show the AfD scoring as much as 12 percent of the vote on Election Day, allowing it to send dozens of lawmakers to national Parliament – or Bundestag – and potentially disrupting German politics.
If the predictions hold, it will be the first time since the end of World War II that a far-right party has attracted enough votes to enter Germany’s Parliament. And the strong showing means the AfD will be the biggest opposition party if Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) continues its governing coalition with the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD).
- Germany’s Alternative for Germany (AfD) party takes third in national elections.
“It’s without question a significant achievement for a right-wing party when you view it historically,” said Karen Donfried, the president of the German Marshall Fund, referring to AfD. She said because of its Nazi history, German voters have usually rejected right-wing parties in elections.
“But this is a significant shift for the German political landscape,” she noted.
Founded in 2013 as an anti-European Union party, the AfD shifted its focus from the euro zone debt crisis to immigration after Merkel in 2015 opened the doors to over a million migrants, many fleeing war in the Middle East.
Since then, the party has increasingly found success by becoming the most visible anti-immigration party in Germany. It scored well in a series of regional elections thanks largely to a growing public anger over Merkel’s welcoming policy toward refugees, particularly from Syria and elsewhere in the Arab world.
Gideon Botsch, a political scientist at the University of Potsdam just outside Berlin, said AfD’s success is partly due to the disillusionment voters feel with Germany’s established political parties.
“Many voters, especially on the right but also in the center, have felt that the two traditional parties have not addressed the issue of immigration and German cultural identity,” Botsch said. “And that has led them to consider voting for the AfD.”