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German parties seek to mobilize anti-AFD vote

Ian Johnson (KNA, epd, dpa, AFP)March 8, 2016

Germany's established parties, shocked by a town hall far-right surge, are trying to mobilize voters for three state polls next Sunday. German lay Catholics say their next convention will shun the upstart populist AfD.

Türkei syrische Flüchtlinge laden Merkel ein
Image: picture-alliance/AA/K. Kocalar

Chancellor Angela Merkel urged undecided voters on Tuesday not to tick AfD in next Sunday's state elections, describing it as the "utterly wrong party." And, established parties should avoid any form of coalition with it, she added.

Whoever voted for the right-wing populists, who played on emotions instead of seeking solutions, must realize that the end effect would be to benefit left-wing parties, Merkel told southwest Germany's public broadcaster SWR.

Surveys show the Alternative for Germany (AfD), created in 2013 and now focused on decrying Merkel's liberal refugee policy, poised to enter assemblies in Saxony-Anhalt, Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate next Sunday.

Some 13 million Germans are registered for Sunday's three elections, in the wake of AfD surges last Sunday during communal polls in Hesse state.

Defying the trend are the Greens in Baden-Württemberg - led by their premier Winfried Kretschmann - with about 33 percent and set to eclipse Merkel's regional CDU, according to recent surveys.

Extremist NPD proffers vote

On Monday, AfD spokesman Christian Lüth had rejected overtures from the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD), which is currently facing a federal banning application before Germany's constitutional court.

The NPD had urged its voters to split their two votes in Saxony-Anhalt and Rhineland-Palatinate between the AfD and the NPD. Lüth said such NPD offers would be "ignored."

Established parties 'shocked'

The "Rhein-Zeitung" daily newspaper, based in Koblenz, reported Tuesday that senior Rhineland-Palatinate officials for Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU), Social Democrats (SPD) and ecologist Greens had all expressed shock at the AfD communal surge in Hesse.

The AfD scored 12.8 percent in Hesse's regional capital, Wiesbaden - just a short distance across the Rhine from Mainz, the regional capital of Rhineland-Palatinate.

"All Democrats must now go and vote," said the three officials, using the almost identical wording, according to the "Rhein-Zeitung."

In contrast, Rhineland's leading AfD candidate Uwe Junge, a Bundeswehr communications officer and ex-CDU member, said the Hesse results "spurred on" his local AfD.

Merkel, Gabriel on campaign trail

Merkel, her federal coalition's Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, both of the SPD, were due after a cabinet session early Wednesday to disperse to all three states for a day of electioneering.

Gabriel, visiting Mainz on Tuesday, denied that next Sunday's three votes amounted to a mock version of the federal election - which is not officially due in Germany until late 2017.

Malu Dreyer SPD Ministerpräsidentin Rheinand-Pfalz
Rhineland-Palatinate's Dreyer faces a close CDU challengeImage: picture-alliance/dpa/F. von Erichsen

"First and foremost, it is a state assembly election, and here the policies of the regional government are up for a vote," said Gabriel, while endorsing RLP's existing SPD-Greens administration, led by premier Malu Dreyer, who is being challenged by the CDU's Julia Klöckner.

AfD will 'vanish,' says CSU

Andreas Scheuer, the general secretary of Merkel's Bavarian allies, the Christian Social Union, on Tuesday, attributed the AfD surge to protest votes linked to the EU's refugee crisis.

"Once we solve the refugee crisis, the AfD will vanish just as quickly as it surfaced," Scheuer told Düsseldorf's "Rheinische Post" newspaper.

Reiner Haseloff Ministerpräsident von Sachsen-Anhalt Landespressekonferenz PK
Regional issues, not refugees, urges HaseloffImage: picture-alliance/dpa/J.Wolf

'Regional issues, not refugees, says Haseloff

Saxony-Anhalt premier Reiner Haseloff told eastern Germany's public broadcaster MDR on Tuesday that the continuation of his CDU-SPD coalition in Magdeburg hinged on regional issues, not outcomes from Monday's EU-Turkey refugee summit in Brussels.

Baden-Württemberg Greens premier Winfried Kretschmann said Tuesday he hoped that resolution of the European refugee crisis would "cut off the water supply" to the AfD.

Lay Catholics deny AfD podium

In the wake of the Hesse results, Thomas Sternberg, the lay president of Germany's Central Committee of Catholics (ZDK) on Monday reiterated a ZdK committee decision not to invite the AfD onto the podium at the Catholics' large biannual convention to be held in Leipzig in restive Saxony state in May.

Last Friday, he had described the AfD as a "collecting tank" of far-right radicals and protest voters.

"We shouldn't ennoble the heads of a protest movement with such xenophobic attitudes in the process," Sternberg said on Monday, adding that it was the church's Christian duty to clearly position itself against anti-foreigner sentiment.