The Alternative for Deutschland (AfD), a far-right party in Germany, has achieved its best-ever election results in a western German state, signaling its emergence as a mainstream political force in the country. Co-leader Alice Weidel declared that the AfD is no longer limited to the eastern part of Germany and has become a major nationwide party. She also criticized the political establishment’s disdain for the AfD, stating that it is unsustainable in the long run.
Previously, the AfD was considered to be more appealing to voters in the post-communist east. However, in the recent state elections in Hesse, a western-central German state that includes the financial capital Frankfurt, the anti-immigration party secured 18.4% of the vote, finishing second behind the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and third in Bavaria. This result marks the best performance for the AfD in a western state election since its establishment a decade ago. It is worth noting that around one-quarter of eligible German voters reside in Hesse.
The campaign leading up to the election was dominated by concerns about immigration. Approximately 83% of voters in Bavaria aligned themselves with parties advocating for adjustments to the country’s immigration and asylum policies. In Bavaria, 21% of voters identified immigration as the most important political issue in Germany, compared to 18% in Hesse. These figures highlight the significance of immigration as a topic of debate and reflect the electorate’s desire for policy changes in this area.
The ruling coalition government, consisting of Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democrats, the Greens, and the FDP, faced significant rebuke from voters in both Hesse and Bavaria. In fact, the FDP failed to secure enough votes to enter parliament in Bavaria. Manfred Gullner, from the Forsa polling institute, attributed the growth of Germany’s far-right to the widening gap between the governing parties in Berlin and ordinary working people.
Markus Soder, leader of the Christian Social Union, the dominant political force in Bavaria for several decades, emphasized the need for change in Germany’s migration policy in response to the AfD’s rise. He stated that migration should be treated as a federal issue rather than a regional policy matter. Soder’s comments serve as an alarm signal for the corridors of power in Berlin, urging them to address the concerns and demands of the electorate regarding migration.
In 2022, the number of migrants arriving in Germany reached a record high, according to German federal statistics firm Destatis. Around 2.67 million people migrated to the country, while only 1.2 million left, resulting in a net gain of 1.46 million people. The conflict in Ukraine played a significant role in this increase, with approximately 1.1 million Ukrainian refugees seeking safety in Germany and other EU states.
The AfD’s success in the western state elections highlights the shifting political landscape in Germany. As the party establishes itself as a mainstream force, it is likely to have a significant impact on the country’s political dynamics and policy debates. The rise of the AfD reflects the concerns and frustrations of many voters, particularly regarding immigration, and underscores the need for Germany’s political establishment to address these issues effectively.