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Far-right AfD surges in eastern German elections

September 1, 2019

Voters went to the polls in Saxony and Brandenburg, two states in Germany's former east. The far-right AfD has become the second biggest party in both regions.

Andreas Kalbitz, AfD - Alternative for Germany (AfD) top candidate for the Brandenburg election Andreas Kalbitz reacts for the first exit polls for the Brandenburg state election
Image: Reuters/A. Schmidt

Preliminary official results  in regional elections in Saxony and neighboring Brandenburg have indicated that the center-right and center-left will stay on top despite their decline in popularity.

The key takeaways:

  • Chancellor Angela Merkel's center-right Christian Democrats (CDU) will remain the strongest party in Saxony, with just over 32% of the vote. In Brandenburg, they scored 15.6%.
  • The center-left Social Democrats (SPD) will hold on to the top spot in Brandenburg with 26.2%, down from 31.9% in the previous election in 2014. The SPD received just 7.7% of the vote in Saxony.
  • The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) made gains in both states, at 27.5% in Saxony and 23.5% in Brandenburg. While these represent massive leaps from their results in 2014, when the party was only a year old, they're very similar to the AfD's scores in the two states in the last national election in 2017.
  • The Green party, typically at its weakest in Germany's east, rode its recent success in EU elections to score 8.6% in Saxony, and 10.8% in Brandenburg.
  • The Left party saw its share of the vote slip to 10.7% in Brandenburg and 10.4% in Saxony.
  • With the SPD and CDU continuing their downward slides, the fact that every other party has sworn not to work with the AfD and the votes relatively evenly dispersed among smaller parties, forming a coalition in both states could be tricky.
  • Saxony state election results 2019
    Brandenburg state election results 2019

Voters of all stripes feeling left behind

Although the AfD's support remained about the same as it was in both states during the national elections in 2017, party leader Alice Weidel celebrated the results on Twitter, proclaiming that the nationalists are "a people's party" and thanking voters. The AfD has used voter discontent over immigration policy to build strength in the former East Germany, which remains its stronghold.

A poll from public broadcaster ARD found a majority of voters from every party except the Greens in Saxony felt like they were considered "second-class citizens" compared to western Germans:

State Premier Michael Kretschmer (CDU) said "thank you for all our support from all over Saxony, especially our young people."

Combined, the two states make up less than a 10th of Germany's total population, although Saxony is the most populous state from the former East with more than 4 million residents. It's home to the cities of Chemnitz, Dresden and Leipzig.

Despite holding on in Brandenburg, the SPD fell to a historic low of only 7.7% of the vote in Saxony. The center-left has seen its supporters migrate to the Left and the Greens on one side and the CDU on the other.

SPD General Secretary Lars Klingbeil said the stagnating results for the AfD indicated that "the people do not want the AfD as the strongest power." He also congratulated the party in Brandenburg for remaining the strongest party in the state.

AfD may push for vote rerun

The AfD in Saxony has said it will push for Sunday's result to be declared invalid, after legal troubles left them with too few candidates to fill their seats in the state parliament. Their 27.5% result should give them 38 seats, but the state constitutional court slashed their list from 61 candidates to 30, citing formal mistakes in the way the lists had been drawn up.

However, it's possible the AfD will still end up with 38 people able to take seats, if the party wins enough of the direct contests in each voting constituency to plug the gap.

"We said before the election that we would in any case take the matter to court, as far as the cutting of the list is concerned," said Jörg Urban, the AfD's top candidate in Saxony, in an interview with regional public broadcaster MDR.

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Elizabeth Schumacher Elizabeth Schumacher reports on gender equity, immigration, poverty and education in Germany.