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POLITICS

Germany’s far-right AfD hopes for first state election wins

Germany is bracing for what could be the first outright election victories for the far-right AfD party on Sunday, when voters in two states in the ex-communist east go to the polls.

Germany's far-right AfD hopes for first state election wins
AfD supporters at a campaign rally in Oranienburg, Brandenburg. Photo: DPA

Even strong vote results, coming 30 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, would badly rattle Chancellor Angela Merkel's fragile coalition government.

The anti-immigration Alternative for Germany has polled strongly in both Brandenburg and Saxony states, part of its eastern electoral heartland.

In Brandenburg, which surrounds Berlin, the AfD has been polling at around 21 percent, neck and neck with the governing Social Democratic Party (SPD).

Brandenburg's SPD state premier Dietmar Woidke has voiced hope that the vote winner will not be “a party that stands for exclusion, hatred and agitation”.

READ ALSO: Brandenburg elections – in east German rust belt, economic fears boost far right

In Saxony, home to the city of Dresden, the AfD has slipped back somewhat to poll at 25 percent, behind the 29 percent for Merkel's centre-right Christian Democrats (CDU).

A third election will be held on October 27th in the eastern state of Thuringia.

The AfD, formed six years ago as a eurosceptic group, now focuses mainly on fear and anger over Germany's mass migrant influx since 2015.

It already has seats in all 16 German state assemblies and the national and European parliaments.

Eastern Germany is home to several of the AfD's most extremist leaders, among them Björn Höcke, who has labelled Berlin's Holocaust memorial a “monument of shame”, and his close ally Andreas Kalbitz, the top candidate in Brandenburg.

The chancellor, who also grew up in the east, has avoided campaigning ahead of Sunday's polls in the region, where she has in the past faced harsh abuse.

'Hostile takeover'

Aside from railing against Islam and immigrants, the AfD has capitalized on lingering resentment since the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall, as The Local has reported.

READ ALSO: Could the far-right AfD really win in upcoming German state elections?

“Let's complete the Wende” (turnaround), it has vowed, referring to the 1989 peaceful revolution that ended the Soviet-allied one-party state.

Those turbulent changes brought freedom and national reunification in 1990 but also painful factory closures, mass layoffs and an exodus of young people.

The AfD has long co-opted the former pro-democracy chant “We are the people” and turned it against what it labels the “Merkel regime”.

Thomas Kliche, political psychologist at the University of Magdeburg-Stendal, said that “in economic terms, the East Germans in fact experienced a hostile takeover”.

“Every year thousands of doctors and teachers migrate to the West where they earn more… Many East Germans have completely lost confidence in social justice.”

Sunday's election results could reverberate across German politics.

For Merkel, an election debacle for either her CDU or junior coalition partner the SPD would pose another threat to their uneasy coalition.

The veteran leader has already pledged to step down when her current term ends in 2021, but regional election upsets could speed up her government's demise.

Poor results for the SPD, already demoralized by a string of election defeats, would boost internal critics who want the party to leave Merkel's government quickly.

READ ALSO: Chemnitz: Portrait of a city shaken by anti-foreigner riots

 

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UKRAINE

German economy minister makes unexpected visit to Ukraine

German Vice Chancellor and Economy Minister Robert Habeck unexpectedly arrived in Kyiv on Thursday to discuss post-war reconstruction and show support after Russian attacks on key Ukrainian infrastructure.

German economy minister makes unexpected visit to Ukraine

“This visit comes at a time when Ukraine needs all the support it can get in its fight for freedom,” Habeck told reporters in the Ukrainian capital.

“And it is a fight for freedom, that’s the important thing that the world, Europe and Germany mustn’t forget,” he said, adding that Ukraine was “fighting for the values that define Europe”.

The trip comes after Germany at the weekend announced it was sending an additional Patriot air defence system to Ukraine after pleas from Kyiv for its Western backer to urgently help foil Russian attacks.

Ukraine has said it is running out of weaponry to shoot down Russian missiles and drones as Moscow ramps up attacks on energy infrastructure.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Wednesday urged fellow EU leaders to urgently follow Berlin’s lead and send more air defence systems to Ukraine.

Habeck, who was accompanied by a business delegation on the trip, will hold talks with President Volodymyr Zelensky.

He will also meet with Ukrainian officials to discuss emergency aid and business ties as well as preparations for the annual Ukraine Recovery Conference to be held in Berlin in June, the German economy ministry said in a statement.

“Comprehensive support for Ukraine also includes support for a resilient energy supply and reconstruction. Private sector investment is crucial for this to succeed,” Habeck was quoted as saying in the statement.

The World Bank has estimated the total cost of reconstruction facing Ukraine more than two years since the start of the war is at least $486 billion.

OPINION: Germany’s timid strategy risks both Ukraine’s defeat and more war in Europe

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