An alternative Germany
Looming threats to the coalition government
Last time the people of Germany voted for their chancellor was in September 2013. Back then the CDU (Christian Democratic Union) once again came out as the winner, with Angela Merkel remaining as their leader.
By just missing the absolute majority, the so-called Union, consisting of the sister parties CDU/CSU (Christian Social Union), was forced to join hands with another party. In this concrete case, it led to a coalition with the SPD (Social Democratic Party of Germany). Both these parties generally form one of the biggest fractions in the Federal Parliament. For more than three years now the big coalition has governed the country.
Not at all as it seems
Germany, to the world, is perceived as a powerful country with a booming economy, a diverse society with little poverty, high educational standards, an openness towards different cultures and a welcoming asylum policy. But there are big dark clouds overcasting the political landscape. Due to terrorist threats, heavy migration and radical opinions gaining more and more power a lot of things have changed in the past three years, on an international scale as well as in Germany itself. Recent regional elections have shown that the established parties lost a lot of their popularity. At the regional election in Baden-Würrtemberg in 2016, the SPD, for example, lost almost 50% popularity in comparison to the election in 2011. Unfortunately, this plays into the hands of the more populist parties. The most controversial one being, the newly founded, predominantly right-wing AfD (Alternative for Germany).
It might seem surprising that in the 21st century, and after all Germany has gone through in the last 100 years, one would have to worry about a far-right party becoming popular enough to make a lot of people nervous about this upcoming 19th election. But here we are. Facing the same global fears and uncertainties of international terrorism and social injustice.
It was those fears that a populist national organization with the name PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization (sic) of the Occident) started to feed on in October 2014. Within a couple of weeks, it transformed from a supposedly harmless weekly protest against the government's asylum and migration politics to one of the most radical, islamophobic and racists groups Germany has seen since WW2. The dangerous tendencies of PEGIDA even spilled across European borders and into the heads of hundred thousands of people.
Moving forward by thinking backward
The AfD itself was originally founded as a reaction to the Euro rescue mission of 2013. The party’s demands for abandoning the Euro and going back to using the Deutsche Mark as well as denying a collective accountability of all countries in the Eurozone found a lot of support in the midst of Greece's financial crisis. It did not take long to emerge that their criticism of the Eurozone was only the tip of the iceberg. Underneath lies a mountain of nationalism, islamophobia and xenophobia peppered with catchy promises such as improvement of the educational system as well as changes in the fiscal and social policies. And even though most of the party member of the AfD deny a direct link to PEGIDA there is no doubt that a lot of the supporters of the movement have found a political home within the agenda of the AfD.
The party also doesn't hesitate to lure voters from the ultra-right party NPD (National Democratic Party Germany). This party was founded in 1964 and it is undeniable that in its revanchist, racial-nationalist and extreme ideology it stands in close relation to Hitler’s NSDAP. The German Federal Constitutional Court is repeatedly passing disbandment proceedings, with the latest one just been rejected on January 17 this year. According to the official justification, the NPD is currently not posing a threat to the free democratic basic order. Even though, for most of the hardcore NPD supporters, the AfD might still be too moderate. State parliament elections, especially in the former East German states have shown that for a lot of people the AfD might not just be an alternative for Germany but as well for the NPD. In 2014, when the AfD firstly won seats in the northeastern state of Saxony it replaced the NPD which lost all their seats. Nowadays the AfD is represented in 10 out of 16 German state parliaments.
The biggest concern might not even be the blunt racists such PEGIDA supporters and former NPD sympathizers. An inquiry from 2014 conducted by the pollster Forsa revealed a large part of people supporting the AfD consists of higher income earners and rather well-educated middle and upper class. Surprisingly, among the electorate, there are many who once used to vote for the LINKE (Left) or the FDP (Free Democratic Party) which are both classical liberal parties. What all these groups have in common is their disappointment in the old parties and little trust in their competence which leads to turning their back on them.
A potential bright spot among the clouds
Lately, AfD has been facing internal turmoils. The two chairman Frauke Petry and Jörg Meuthen are in a constant fight with each other. The parliamentary group in Baden-Würrtemberg had a major break up. Overall, the party is not on the same page on how to handle right-wing extremist forces. But none of those issues are negatively reflected amongst the latest surveys. If the German people were to vote today, with up to 13% of the votes the AfD would certainly move into the Federal Parliament. In comparison on the day of the election in September 2013, they only reached 4.7%.
Having different groups, interests, agendas, and views represented in the form of political parties is what makes a democracy. And a working democracy will always bare potential dangers for others.
If the AfD moves into the German Parliament there is no other way than to accept it.
Nevertheless, there might be one way to minimize their influence and power. In 2006 the members of the democratic parties of state parliament of Mecklenburg-West Pomerania agreed on some guidelines called “Schwerine's Announcement” on how the handle the NPD inside the parliament. They all obligated to not support any of the parties initiatives.The same could be applied in the Federal Parliament. All the parties standing united against the AfD would indicate that none of the other parties supports any of the ideologies the AfD represents. Furthermore, it would prevent to move any of the AfDs applications forward, therefore making it impossible to do any major changes.
That might seem like a radical undertaking to some. But in light of recent worldwide events, it is indispensable to make use of any parliamentary possibility to protect the safety and development of democracy and to turn against any form of politically motivated violence. Just as it is our duty as citizens entitled to vote to educate ourselves, to be involved, to be part of the democratic process and to use our voice to make a change or to stabilize our government. Because those that do not vote are voting for the wrong ones. It is going to be an interesting year.
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