Election in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. What does it mean for Merkel if AfD ahead of CDU?

It seems it is not totally unrealistic that AfD is fighting for the first place in the regional election in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. How important is to score well for AfD? And if AfD scores really well what kind of impact it may have on the German political scene? Read few comments.

Christian Schweiger, Senior Lecturer in Government, Department of Politics, Durham University

On the AfD in the upcoming election in MVP on Sunday: As you have probable seen the AfD is currently polling around 21 per cent in the region, with the CDU around 22 per cent and the SPD between 22 and 28 (a full comparative list of different polls can be found here.

It is therefore indeed possible that the AfD could end up in first place on Sunday, particularly if some of the voters of the CDU decide to defect and if people who previously did not want decide to take part in this weekend’s election. Merkel herself seems to be very aware of this possibility which is why she gave a very strange interview in today’s Sueddeutsche Zeitung where she essentially seems to backtrack on the ‘wir schaffen das’ slogan:

In my opinion a very strong result for the AfD in MVP would send shockwaves through Germany’s mainstream political establishment, especially if this is followed up by a similarly strong result at the regional elections in Berlin a week later. The first effect will be the possibility of a debate on Merkel’s ability to win the national election next year. You surely will have heard about the hesitation of the Bavarian CSU to support Merkel’s renewed candidacy for the post of chancellor next year.

It is rumoured that Merkel has not yet declared her renewed candidacy because she cannot be sure if the CSU will campaign for her in Bavaria. If the CSU indeed failed to support her she would struggle to win a sufficient mandate as the CSU result is essential to win a majority. Poor CDU showings in MVP and Berlin are most likely to lead to calls from the CSU for Merkel to step down and for someone else to become candidate (possible Schaeuble, interior minister De Maiziere or even Bavarian PM Seehofer himself if his health allows it). This calls would then also most likely be supported by parts of the CDU, especially those on the right wing of the party who have been disillusioned with Merkel’s management of both the euro and the migration crisis.

The second effect I would expect is for the SPD to distance itself much clearer from Merkel than this has already happened. Sigmar Gabriel made some very critical statements about Merkel’s management of the refugee crisis last weekend and it seems that he wants to position himself as an independent challenger. I would imagine that this could intensify with other SPD ministers adopting an equally Merkel-critical stance if the AfD makes substantial gains. After all the SPD has to fear that more of its traditional working class supporters defect to the AfD.

Finally on the AfD itself: it has been riven by internal disagreements in recent months and may therefore in the long term self-destruct as was previously the case with the right-wing populist Republikaner party that made significant gains in regional and European Parliament elections in the late 1980s. The breeding ground for parties like the AfD in Germany will however remain, especially in the East of the country, which is shown by the persistence of the affiliated PEGIDA movement.

From what I can gather there seems to be a substantial section of the population across all age groups in the East who feel alienated from mainstream politics as their personal economic situation is far worse than in many areas in the West. This has created a mixture of nostalgia for the former communist regime among the older voters, where many perceived to have had a better quality of life and a longing for a more authoritarian politics among sections of younger voters, especially those who are in low-skilled jobs or unemployed. For both these groups Merkel is not an advocate of East German interests, which explains why the CDU is losing support.

Thorsten Benner, Director, Global Public Policy Institute

If the AfD bested Merkel in her home state (Merkel has her Bundestag mandate constituency in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern), that would be a huge symbolic victory for the AfD – and a humiliation that will increase the level of nervousness within the CDU. This will also increase the pressure on Merkel to try to win back votes by catering to right wing populist concerns. She had resisted doing this for a long time but experimented with catering to the right by

The CDU also expects a poor showing in the Berlin elections in mid-September. This all feeds into a creeping Merkel fatigue in the party and the electorate as a whole. This creates a challenging environment for Merkel leading up to the CDU party convention in early December. There will not face a challenger if she runs again for the party leadership but could end up with a poor result in terms of how many delegates vote for her. Ultimately, the party will assemble behind her if she decides to run for a fourth term as chancellor in the 2017 elections but it´s hard to imagine any significant level of excitement around her candidacy.

That said, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern is not Germany as a whole – the East German electorate is more volatile than the West German since party allegiance is more shallow in the East. In Germany as a whole the CDU poll numbers are still reasonably stable in the low to mid 30s.

As far as the AfD is concerned, a strong showing on Sunday would indicate that the electorate at this stage does not care much about the party´s performance –over the past months there was a lot of infighting within the AfD leadership – but that doesn’t seem to concern those voters who see the AfD as a vehicle for a protest vote.

Eric Langenbacher, Associate Teaching Professor, Department of Government , Georgetown University

It is probably too later for you now. But, even if the AfD scores well in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, it will have little to no impact elsewhere. No mainstream party will work with it. Besides, eastern German state legislative results have been volatile with little spillover to other regions. There have been many protest parties scoring well in that region. Some might say that a big AfD win would make some sort of leftist government more likely. But, the AfD has also siphoned many votes from the Left Party. (The Berlin result will be more interesting).

Florian Hartleb, Political Scientist, Consultant

It is important in several regards, symbolically if the AfD would getfirst time more votes than the CDU in a country. It would bring Angela Merkel and her controversial refugee (“welcome”) policy more in danger. The election shows still the relevance and the people´s fear, as well that the East is still much more critical towards immigrants than the West (besides the fact that in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern are only little refugees in German comparison and nor real problems with immigration).

It seems the that the AfD will enter the national parliament (Bundestag) in autumn 2017 – first time in history after 1945 for a radical-populist right-wing party. This would be a bad sign for the EU as well after the elections in Spring 2017 in France and the Netherlands. For Germany itself, it means a difficult process in coalition-building what is already to observe on the country level. The plan of the CDU to build up a coalition with the Greens would fail and it could mean a continuity with the big coalition, a loveless marriage like, with similar developments like in Austria.

 

Kai Arzheimer, Professor of Political Science, University of Mainz

Support for radical right-wing parties is usually underestimated, so your question is perfectly valid. Either way, an AfD result of more than 20% (which currently seems entirely realistic) will be another blow to the established parties, and will, from the AfD’s point of view, provide a welcome distraction from the ongoing power struggle in the AfD’s national executive.

Having said that, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern is a rural eastern state with a tradition of both electoral and non-electoral right-wing mobilisation that goes back to the early 1990s. Even a very strong AfD showing there will be much less of a political shock than the western results in March. *If* the latest surveys are to be trusted, a third term for the Mecklenburg-Vorpommern’s current SPD/CDU coalition is just within reach.

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