Electors in the German state of Thüringen cast their votes for a new state government on October 27. Thüringen was part of the former East Germany prior to reunification in 1990.
The election resulted in a rise in support for both Die Linke (The Left) and the Alternative for Deutschland (AfD), an extreme right-wing party headed by a fascist in Thüringen.
Die Linke won 31% of the vote — the highest result — however not enough to rule in its own right. The party’s vote rose from 28.2% in the 2014 state elections.
The AfD’s vote rose dramatically from 10.6% in 2014 to 23.4%.
The other traditional and major German parties did very poorly. The Socialist Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), which is similar to the Australian Labor Party, fell from 12.4% to 8.2%, while the Greens’ vote fell from 5.7% to 5.2%.
Support for the traditional home for conservatives, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), fell from 33.5% in 2014 to 21.8%.
The Free Democrat Party (FDP), a smaller liberal party, almost lost any representation, gaining only 5% of the vote.
Thüringen is one of the poorest states in Germany. It has a large low-wage sector and unemployment is about 8.5%, while the national average is 5.7%.
Wages in East Germany are generally lower than in the west, sometimes by as much as two-thirds. East German workers work much longer hours and, despite this, many still experience economic hardship.
The record of “reunification”, or — as much of the left in Germany interpret it — the annexation of the former state of East Germany into West Germany, is a demonstration of capitalism’s need to destroy socialism’s credibility, even a Stalinist version of it.
Everything about East Germany was labelled as criminal, sinister, or inept, while the former West German state’s image was of a legitimate paradise for workers.
East Germany is still described as an “Unrechtsstaat” —an illegitimate or lawless state. This vilification not only damns the East German state, but its people as well.
Many East Germans feel diminished and angry about this unbalanced view of their lives. This, combined with the economic situation, have contributed to people’s alienation from mainstream parties and a receptivity to the AfD’s propaganda.
Die Linke lead candidate Bodo Ramelow, a moderate social democrat, has been the incumbent minister-president since 2014, due to a coalition formed with the SPD and the Greens after the 2014 election.
Ramelow passed some reforms, including guaranteeing all families two years of free childcare, hiring hundreds of new teachers, expanding high-speed internet (a perpetual frustration in the eastern states) and increasing public transport subsidies for students. The economy also continues to grow above the national average.
On the other hand, Ramelow’s government also hired hundreds of new police officers, as part of his law and order stance. Thüringen has the dubious record of having the second-highest number of deportations of rejected asylum applications. Ramelow’s government has been accused of cutting back on social welfare spending while courting big business. His campaign posters did not even mention Die Linke.
The AfD attracted voters who are under 25 years old, overwhelming male, from rural areas and previously non-voters. Die Linke voters were mainly over 50 and retired.
The AfD portrays itself as being for “ordinary” Germans and different to all the other parties — the “old” parties, as Höcke, its lead candidate in Thüringen describes them.
He listed three main differences, on immigration, energy policy and attitude towards the European Union. The AfD is anti-refugee and against immigration. It opposes the shutting down of the nuclear and coal industries and promotes a Europe of “fatherlands” of different national and cultural differences.
Höcke was described by the Neue Zürcher Zeitung as the most hated politician in Germany and — according to a ruling by a Meiningen court — can legally be described as a fascist.
Within the AfD, Höcke’s positions on so-called “race science” and what could be viewed as ethnic cleansing of non-white populations from Germany are striking. However, he is a skilled politician, very disciplined and calculating about his image and his messages. Many believe he constantly pushes the public debate into accepting right-wing messages. His vision is to build a mass party.
On November 7, the electoral commission will declare the final results.
It may then be clearer whether Die Linke can form a coalition government, whether the CDU will assist it — or the AfD — into government, or whether Thüringen has a hung parliament.