German election, 2017: The surge of neo-Nazis

Muhammad Mahmood | Published: October 14, 2017 19:30:43 | Updated: November 11, 2017 12:40:47

Angela Merkel secured a fourth term as German Chancellor following the election held on September 24. The election dealt a severe blow to her party Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian ally the Christian Social Union (CSU). Chancellor Merkel's conservative alliance emerged as the largest parliamentary bloc with 33 per cent of the vote just keeping it ahead of its principal rival by just 12 points. But the oldest party in Germany, Social Democrats (SPD) also received their worst result, with just 21 per cent of the vote, since 1949 when the first national elections were held in post-war Germany. The real winner in the election is the far-right neo-Nazi Alternative for Germany (AfD), winning 13 per cent of the vote.

Opinion polls consistently predicted the win for Angela Merkel and dire prospects for the social democrats. The election results just confirmed those pre-election opinion polls. In fact, almost half of voters rejected the two major parties, CDU and SPD that have dominated Germany since the end of the WW II. There is no absolute winner in the election but as a single largest winning party CDU and its partner CSU will have to put together a coalition government now.

The social democrats (SPD) has been in a grand coalition over the last four years with CDU. Even before the election there had been a lot of soul searching in the leadership of SPD about the future direction of the party. There is a widespread belief within the party that by remaining in the grand coalition, SPD failed to distance themselves from the government and policies it pursued. Even anointing a new leader, Martin Schulz, did not help to forestall the very disappointing electoral results for the party. Immediately after the election when the results became clear, the deputy leader of SPD, Manuela Schwesig told the German media "for us the grand coalition ends today''. She further declared her party would go into opposition as demanded by the voters. However, political observers point out that the SPD's decision to  go to opposition is also guided by its determination to prevent the neo-Nazi AfD from becoming the major opposition party.

Now without SPD, Chancellor Markel  will have to cobble up a coalition requiring the support of two other minor parties and it is widely speculated that will involve bringing into the coalition fold the  Free Democratic Party (FDP) with 11 per cent   and the Greens with 8 per cent of the vote respectively. But such a coalition comes with a price. Christian Linder, the leader of the FDP, has very clearly expressed his terms for joining the coalition: his party nominee would have to be in charge of the finance ministry. The position is held by the CDU's powerful Wolfgang Schaeuble since 2009. The demise of such a powerful figure should usually be very difficult to imagine, but then politics is all about the art of possibilities. Schaeuble has cleared the deck by moving on to assume the position of President of the Bundestag. Christian Linder himself is likely to be the new finance minister. The Greens also insist on leading  one  key ministry and Cem Ozdemir, the co-leader of the party, is considered for the position of foreign minister. The coalition negotiations can be a prolonged affair in Germany given that  thrashing  out every policy issue before the coalition is formed is the norm in Germany. So, close to Christmas or even the New Year is the likely time frame  stipulated by observers for a coalition to emerge. 

Chancellor Merkel is also under pressure from her Bavarian partner, the CSU, to move to further right. This attempt to move to the further right is largely driven by strategic attempt to counter the rapid rise of anti-immigrant (laced with strong Islamophobic chants) and anti-EU party, the neo-Nazi AfD. The CSU is far more conservative than CDU and has taken a very hard line on immigration in recent times. The CSU leader Horst Seehofer said that business as usual on immigration was not an option and this would be a major issue in the forthcoming discussion on the formation of the coalition. This is already happening even before discussions have started with two other minor parties who have their own list of issues. The CSU is also intensely hostile to the Greens, a likely coalition partner.

The refugee crisis in Europe is not Chancellor Merkel's creation but as the unofficial leader of Europe she had to face it and deal with it as best as she could, given the circumstances. The United States bears the full responsibility for the massive influx of refugees into Europe. These refugees are fleeing in the aftermath of US-NATO onslaught against them in countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Iraq and Syria. Some political commentators described the refugee crisis in Europe as "America's gift to Europe". It also must not be forgotten that this refugee influx into Europe is a miniscule flow compared to the same in other Middle-Eastern countries. In the process the USA has practically now destabilised the whole of the Middle-East and is still continues to do so and ISIS is just one manifestation of that among many others.

However, Chancellor Merkel bears responsibility for not highlighting the source of the refugee crisis during her election campaign, instead she tried to appease many anti-immigrant and racist voters that belong to her own party by raising the slogans of security and safety against crimes committed by immigrants as if they as a  group are solely responsible for crimes committed in Germany. Though Chancellor Merkel still defends her refugee policy of 2015, she has since then very significantly watered down that policy simply because substantial opposition against the policy still remains within her own party, not to speak of other parties. In effect she has quietly but firmly reversed the policy and shut the door to refugees. The US policy of destabilisation, destruction and regime change in  the Middle-Eastern countries does not only spawn spiralling terrorism but also refugee outflows to Europe,  both of which pose security threats to Europe, the Middle-East and  Maghreb countries.

The key result of the German election, 2017 is not that Angela Merkel has managed to stay in power but that a neo-Nazi party has been elected, for the first time since 1949, with 13 per cent of the vote. They do not call themselves Nazis but have styled themselves with a new label - Alternative for Germany (AfD). Originally the party positioned itself to the right of Merkel's CDU with usual free market, pro-capitalism and anti-European agenda. But the party has moved on, now it favours racism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and Nazi glorification including anti anything that remotely looks left or progressive. The AfD's turn towards Nazism started with the election of Frauke Petry as head of the party in 2015. It now embraces Germany's Nazi past. The core of AfD identity is not, however, so much anti-Semitism but Islamophobia. Like all extreme right-wing parties, its members as well its leadership display a very low level of intellectual ability resulting in its inability to analyse any political issues in depth. This lack of intellectual ability is clearly reflected in its policies. Some political observers call it the Alternative for Dumb. But such labelling should not underestimate its appeal to a section of the German voters and its ability to cause serious political mayhem in the country.

The AfD is at present led by 76-year-old Alexander Guland, a former member of CDU. He just over time mutated from a far-right position in the  CDU to a neo-Nazi. His 38-year-old colleague Alice Weidel, now leading light of the party, said Wehrmacht did good. She is a  former employee of Goldman Sachs. She described Chancellor Merkel's government as "pigs'' and "puppets of WW II allies" and its (CDU) task was to limit the population of German "Volk" i.e. people. She also blamed the Merkel government for allowing Arabs, Sinti and Roma to overrun the country causing systematic destruction of its civil society.

The AfD as a party is quite full of contradictions and is also factionalised. Alice Weidel is a gay woman and lives with her Sri Lankan partner and their two adopted children while her party is openly anti-gay and espouses traditional German family values. The party advocates to reintroduce a core Nazi ideology called "volkisch'', a Nazi term meaning the Aryan German master race or more precisely white power like white nationalism in the USA. To add to the drama, Frauke Petry, co-chair of the AfD, stunned her party colleagues by declining to join the parliamentary party only a day after the election. She told a German newspaper that the party had become "too anarchistic''. Her walk-out from the party should not be seen as a sign of moderating her views rather she has hardened her views. She said that German police should use firearms to reassert control over German border. She took serious exception to Alexander Guland's declaration to sit in the opposition to "hound'' the new government from within the Bundestag. She wants AfD not to be in the opposition but to be part of the new government. Chancellor Merkel, however, dismissed any idea of AfD having any influence in any form over the new government. But she is already trying her best to close the door to refugees (one of the major policy stand of the AfD). She is increasingly under pressure from the right faction in her party to do so. Now she will have to adopt some of AfD anti-immigration policies to placate her right faction but with less inflammatory rhetoric. However, Germany's policies towards Europe or the Euro will remain unchanged and those are  the only issues where AfD will have very little impact.

The writer is an independent economic and political analyst.


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