The fear was immense. In opinion polls before the election, the right-wing Alternative for Germany, AfD, was closely chasing the Christian Democratic Union (CDU). In some polls, the AfD was even pulling ahead. A victory for them in the eastern German state would have marked a historic turning point and a threat to Germany’s political mainstream, just a few months before the federal election. But that horror scenario turned out to be a mirage for the right-wing populists.
Even though the AfD is still the second leading political force in Saxony-Anhalt, the CDU has shown that it can mobilize voters — for democracy and against the AfD.
A boost for Armin Laschet
The CDU acquired more than 36% of the vote — far beyond what surveys had predicted. It came as a great relief for all Christian Democrats, especially those in the inner circle of the chancellor candidate, Armin Laschet. The clear victory in Saxony-Anhalt gives him the boost he urgently needs for the federal election.
The fact that the CDU has expanded its influence in Saxony-Anhalt could signal a significant change in voters’ behavior. Germany’s leading parties are rapidly losing support, particularly in the east. Saxony-Anhalt’s election results showed that it is possible to revert that process. This is an achievement that the CDU desperately needs to repeat in all eastern states to claim its electoral ground against the AfD.
A mixed bag for the other parties
DW’s Rosalia Romaniec
The other parties’ results show interesting developments too.
In 2011, the pro-business FDP was kicked out of the state parliament. But now, with almost 7%, the party could even replace the Greens in the governing coalition. Ironically, the Free Democrats are showing the Greens that their chances for political advancement are limited, at least in the east.
The Left party also bled votes in Saxony-Anhalt. Although the support for the post-communist party remains in the double-digit range at 11%, the AfD’s votes are twice as much and the far-right party has overtaken the Left as the “Party of the East.”
The election result reveals another remarkable development and more disillusionment: The Social Democrats, the former workers’ and people’s party, have continued their downward spiral and are losing further political ground in structurally weak Saxony-Anhalt — an especially bitter pill to swallow.
CDU shows some edge
Looking at the CDU, one thing is clear: The success does not owe much to the CDU’s chairman and chancellor candidate Armin Laschet. That credit goes to Saxony-Anhalt’s popular premier, Reiner Haseloff, who didn’t even support Laschet as chancellor candidate. As was the case in all the other eastern states, Saxony-Anhalt’s CDU branch favored Laschet’s competitor from Bavaria, Markus Söder.
In the event, Laschet’s vigorous pre-election campaigning was not damaging. Conversely, the party’s strong showing has given him a much-needed boost to reinvent his image as a politician who simply wants to carry on where Chancellor Angela Merkel leaves off. It also helped Laschet to reconcile a little more with eastern Germany.
Attracting voters from the right
Laschet aims to retain the voters in the center and at the same time attract more conservative-minded voters.
He’s distanced himself from right-wing rhetoric but also accommodates the opinions that fall into the gray area. That was also Reiner Haseloff’s tactic and it worked. The CDU was perceived as being edgy and has thus become more acceptable and electable in eastern Germany.
That might inspire ambitions among the CDU’s more right-wing conservatives. For the time being, let them dream. Laschet’s task for the next few months is clear: As many people as possible must feel they and their problems are being addressed ahead of the general election. After that the cards will be reshuffled — depending on the coalition partner.