In what was seen as a bellwether of national mood in two German state elections, the far-right Alternative for Germany, or AfD, surged as the three parties that make up the country’s federal coalition government suffered significant losses.
Conservative forces won decisive victories in both Bavaria and Hesse. In Bavaria, the Christian Social Union (CSU), sister-party to the center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU), is projected to win 36.6 percent of the vote, slightly lower than the party’s result in state elections in 2018. In Hesse, the CDU is on track to win 34.6 percent of the vote.
But it was the AfD, a party that has grown increasingly radical since its founding in 2013, that took the biggest hit of the night.
The AfD’s strong performance outside its traditional stronghold in the states of the former East Germany shows that the party has successfully expanded its support base. The development has already sparked a fresh flurry of soul-searching among leaders of major parties.
“The AfD’s increased performance can only worry every democrat in this country,” Green Party co-leader Ricardo Lang said on public television. “I want to see us move away from finger-pointing, and I want every Democrat to think now about what we can do. [the election results] Be different again in the future.
In both Bavaria and Hesse, the three parties that make up German Chancellor Olaf Scholes’ ruling coalition – the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD), the Greens and the liberal Free Democrats (FDP) – all cut their support. The decision reflected widespread dissatisfaction with the federal government at a time of growing economic and social insecurity.
The German economy has been stuck in a stretched path due to rising energy prices following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. A sharp increase in the number of asylum seekers entering Germany this year and a shortage of affordable housing have fueled voter discontent.
The AfD was clearly able to capitalize on this discontent. Robert Lambrou, head of the AfD’s parliamentary group in Hesse, where the party is predicted to win 18.5 percent of the vote, said the party’s performance in the state was “breathtaking”. He added, “Many feel that there is a need for a change in policy. We have high inflation, high energy prices, high rents. We have completely unchecked mass immigration. There’s a lot to do here.
In Bavaria, the AfD was predicted to win 15.7 percent of the vote, just ahead of Free Voters, the ruling right-wing mainstream party in coalition with the CSU in the state.
Germany’s federal ruling coalition government is already often beset by infighting, particularly between the Greens and the FDP — ideological rivals in many ways. As each party seeks to strengthen its support base, a poor outcome for coalition parties may worsen the odds.
In the former SPD stronghold of Hesse, the Social Democrats suffered a crushing defeat, polling just 15.1 percent of the vote, according to projections. The loss was all the more bitter for the party because its candidate in the state was Scholz’s federal interior minister, Nancy Feser, who called the result “very disappointing” in a speech.
With such a poor result, many are now speculating whether Fazer will be able to hold on to his position as Home Minister. Chancellor Scholz will face pressure to make major changes to reverse the fortunes of his party and coalition.
The election result was particularly devastating for the FDP, a junior partner in Scholz’s coalition. According to projections, the party won just 2.9 percent of the vote in Bavaria and 5 percent in Hesse. If it fails to meet the 5 percent threshold, the party risks being kicked out of both state parliaments.
For leaders of Germany’s federal government, the election results have already raised loud alarm bells. The only question is whether there is enough unity within the coalition to turn the tide.
“Of course, we are not deaf and blind,” SPD General Secretary Kevin Konert said on German public television after the initial election results. “We all have to work together in this coalition to recognize the signals.”