Demonstration against racism and right-wing extremists on January 28, 2024 in Hamburg, northern Germany. MORRIS MAC MATZEN / AFP
The German far right suffered an electoral setback on Sunday, January 28, when demonstrations of unprecedented proportions broke out across the country against their program, despite having looked for months as if they were on an unstoppable upward momentum.
The Alternative for Germany (AfD) has lost its bet for the second cantonal presidency in the local elections in the Saale-Orla district in the eastern German region of Thuringia. Their candidate Uwe Thrume received only 47.6% of the vote in the second round on Sunday, improving his result in the first round by just 1.9 points, while his conservative rival benefited from a strong surplus of votes and finished with 52.4%. The defeat of the AfD, which started as the favorite, was achieved “thanks to the mobilization of civil society,” estimated the number two in Thuringia, the Social Democrat Georg Maier.
This election was a test at a time when large-scale demonstrations have been taking place for about two weeks against this party and its program, considered racist by its critics. More than 800,000 people took to the streets over the weekend, mainly in Hamburg and Düsseldorf, to denounce the AfD and what they believe are threats to democracy, organizers said on Sunday. Last weekend, organizers estimated the number of participants at 1.4 million.
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This mobilization of civil society was triggered by press revelations that triggered an earthquake in Germany: at the end of last year, members of the AfD, an anti-migration and anti-system party, discussed a mass expulsion plan for “unassimilated citizens”.
“The evil genie is out of the bottle”
A survey conducted by the INSA institute following the first demonstrations recently showed a decline in voting intentions for the AfD to 21.5% compared to 23% previously. The demonstrations “are having an impact,” said institute director Hermann Binkert in the Bild daily newspaper.
The fact is that the AfD remains the second most popular party in Germany in the polls, behind the conservative opposition to Social Democratic Chancellor Olaf Scholz. The reason for this is the increase in immigration and the record-breaking unpopularity of the ruling coalition government. According to the daily newspaper FAZ, between 130 and 150 new members join the right-wing extremist party every day, and the number of activists could rise from 40,000 to 60,000 members by the end of the year.
“We have to face the facts: the evil genie is out of the bottle,” complained this week in the Die Zeit newspaper Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who has previously tried to downplay the rise of the left. The AfD is “a danger to democracy” and its assumption of responsibilities “would ruin Germany economically,” warned liberal Finance Minister Christian Lindner on Sunday.
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The business world also warns of the risks associated with enforcing the AfD's theses and emphasizes its need for foreign workers and international trade. The party recently said it wanted a referendum on leaving the European Union.
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“Only if people feel comfortable with us will they come and only then will we be sustainably attractive,” said Peter Adrian, President of the Association of German Chambers of Industry and Commerce (DIHK).
In this context, there are increasing voices calling for a cut in public funding for the AfD, especially since the party is in the crosshairs of the secret services. Its regional associations in Thuringia and Saxony-Anhalt were placed under surveillance because of their positions, which were considered very radical.