sexta-feira, 29 de abril de 2016
Germany’s AfD prepares 2017 assault on Merkel and Co.
Germany’s AfD prepares 2017 assault on Merkel and Co.
Can the far-right party appeal to the mainstream? It will try at a congress in Stuttgart this weekend.
By JANOSCH DELCKER 4/29/16, 5:35 AM CET
BERLIN — The Alternative for Germany (AfD) has picked off non-voters and scored successes in local elections, but the rapidly growing far-right party is now turning its attention to poaching supporters from Angela Merkel’s conservatives and their Social Democrat allies in pursuit of the main prize: federal elections in 2017.
At a party congress in Stuttgart this weekend, the motley crew of malcontents united by their dissatisfaction with mainstream German politics will try to agree on a party manifesto going beyond their usual bugbears of immigration, Islam and the euro.
Referencing the 18th-century Sturm und Drang movement, which promoted the ideal of wild young things venting their raw emotions, deputy party chief Alexander Gauland described the current state of the party as “young and stormy.”
“Ideally, we’ll manage to give ourselves a clear idea of what we stand for this weekend,” Gauland, the party’s tweedy 75-year-old elder statesman who was a CDU party member for 40 years, told POLITICO.
After a strong performance in three regional elections in March, the AfD has scored between 10 and 14 percent in opinion polls in recent weeks, which if reproduced in federal elections could potentially make it the third biggest party after the CDU and SPD.
The SPD in particular looks rife for poaching: facing the worst crisis in its post-war history.
Not bad for a party founded in 2013 with the very specific aim of protesting against the largely German-funded bailouts for over-indebted eurozone countries like Greece.
With debt crisis headlines ceding to the refugee crisis, the AfD’s Euroskeptic focus has faded along with the departure of its co-founder Bernd Lucke, an economics professor, last year. The party increasingly campaigns on an ultra-conservative platform tackling issues such as Merkel’s open-doors policy on refugees from Syria, the role of Islam in Western society, and a return to traditional “family values.”
“We’re fishing in many waters,” acknowledged Gauland.
Openings on the right
“The AfD is expanding its reach,” said Sebastian Friedrich, a social scientist and author of a book about the party. “It continues to mobilize non-voters, but at the same time it’s trying to win over new voters from Germany’s established mainstream parties.”
To focus minds and sharpen its strategy, AfD delegates must turn the leadership’s 75-page draft document into a manifesto at this weekend’s 1-1/2 day congress, taking into account 1,400 pages of amendments submitted by party members.
The goal is to focus on areas where the AfD has the greatest potential to win over voters from Germany’s mainstream parties, especially Merkel’s CDU, its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union, and their center-left partners in the chancellor’s “grand coalition,” the SPD.
The SPD in particular looks rife for poaching: facing the worst crisis in its post-war history, with less than 20 percent support in recent polls, much of its membership feels it has lost touch with its core values of social justice and workers’ rights.
Merkel has made it clear recently that she has no intention of imitating the AfD’s ultra-conservative platform in order to win back voters.
Alternative fur Deutschland
One senior SPD official in the Bundestag, or lower house of parliament, said the AfD had succeeded in mobilizing the protest vote among people who had stayed away from the ballots in recent elections, rather than winning over active Social Democrats. But the official, speaking on condition of anonymity, acknowledged that the SPD needed to do a better job of mobilizing non-voters if it wanted to get back on its feet.
“Among the non-voters mobilized by the AfD are those who used to vote for the SPD and whom the Social Democrats lost over the last two decades,” said Friedrich.
The right wing of the AfD, grouped around Gauland, and an ultranationalist camp focused on regional party chief Björn Höcke, are particular eager to tap into this part of the electorate. They have excised some of the liberal economists’ demands, such as abolishing unemployment benefits, from the draft manifesto and will push issues considered to be working class, such as measures to combat poverty among the elderly, at the congress.
Another major grouping, which is formed around family values campaigner Jörg Meuthen, has a focus on winning over the more conservative sectors of Merkel’s Christian Democrats where there is concern that the chancellor has hollowed out the CDU’s traditional profile with policies like the refugee response and her measures to support working mothers.
“The CDU has made clear that it will continue its modernization course to the left,” said Gauland, who held various offices within the CDU and left in 2011 because “the CDU had lost its soul with Angela Merkel,” as he wrote in a newspaper opinion piece. “This leaves [opportunities for the AfD] on the right.”
Sticking to the center
Merkel, who until recently appeared determined to simply ignore the rise of the AfD, has made it clear recently that she has no intention of imitating the AfD’s ultra-conservative platform in order to win back voters.
At a closed-door meeting with senior CDU officials in her chancellory in Berlin 1-1/2 weeks ago, an invited pollster presented statistics affirming that the CDU had not primarily lost voters to the AfD. The party’s main problem, the pollster said, was that its aging electorate was simply dying out.
His conclusion was that the CDU must continue shaping a more modern image to reach out to a new electorate, for instance urban voters with a modern lifestyle who still have conservative values — in other words, it should stick to Merkel’s strategy.
“The CDU feels vindicated that it has and will maintain its place in the political center,” the CDU’s general secretary Peter Tauber told reporters.
Privately, some CDU officials are less certain of this course. One high-ranking party member in the Bundestag said she was concerned that while it was important to open up the party to a modern electorate, the CDU should not lose sight of its core, traditional values.
Such doubts have the AfD scenting blood.
“In the CDU they don’t know what they stand for any more,” said deputy AfD leader Gauland. “The CDU actually just stands for Frau Merkel, and that’s it.”