State elections in East Germany: a pyrrhic victory over the far right

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State elections in the East German states of Saxonia and Brandenburg this Sunday yielded what can only be described as a new historic low for the political establishment, both on the left side of the spectrum for the SPD (Social Democrats) and Die Linke (“The Left”), and on the right for the CDU (Christian Democrats). The far right party Alternative für Deutschland (“Alternative for Germany”), on the other hand, celebrates sweeping double-digit gains in both states and will become the second strongest political party in both state parliaments.

The only constant of these elections being the triumph of the AfD, results differed significantly in both states, with the Social Democrats “winning” in Brandenburg with a grand total of 26.2% (-5.7%) of all votes, and the CDU receiving the majority of votes in Saxonia at 32.1% (-7.3%). Conversely, the Social Democrats reached a new historic low of 7.7% (-4.7%) in Saxonia, and the CDU fell below 20% in Brandenburg with only 15.6% (-7.4%) of votes.

This apparent victory of the governing parties is deceiving, however, since for the first time since its sharp ascent in the German political sphere, the AfD almost managed to accumulate enough votes to become the strongest political force in state elections, with 27.5% (+17.8%) of all votes in Saxonia and 23.5% (+11.3%) in Brandenburg.

While the Green Party, whose national poll numbers have skyrocketed in recent months, could slightly improve its position in both states (8.6% (+2.9%) and 10.8% (+4.6%), respectively), Die Linke, the traditional voice of disgruntled voters in East Germany, took heavy hits both in Saxonia (10.4%/ -8.5%) and Brandenburg (10.7% /-7.9%).

The disruption of the political landscape in Germany may have been temporarily halted by what appears to be pyrrhic victory for the political establishment. Given the apparantly unstoppable rise of the far right, however, the seemingly insurmountable challenges of polarisation and political division, which virtually all Western democracies are today grappling with, can hardly be denied. For the moderate political forces in Germany, these elections may well have been the last wake-up call.

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