Bavaria vote augurs no change in migration policies

The sizeable vote for the AfD (10%) offered a reminder that many Germans are unlikely to forgive the chancellor for her opening of the German borders in 2015.
Sunday 21/10/2018
People dressed in traditional Bavarian clothes cast their votes for regional elections at a polling station in Neukirchen in southern Germany, on October 14.  (AFP)
More of the same. People dressed in traditional Bavarian clothes cast their votes for regional elections at a polling station in Neukirchen in southern Germany, on October 14. (AFP)

Bavarian electors delivered a sharp rebuke to the Christian Social Union (CSU), conservative sister party of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), by handing them a victory that looked more like a defeat.

Winning just more than one-third of the vote, after very high turnout of more than 70%, the CSU recorded its worst electoral result since 1950. There are many reasons for the slump. The outcome for the other parties suggests the ancient regime is on its way out

A slump in the Socialist Democratic Party (SPD) vote confirms the dire state a party that has been one of Germany’s leading political forces since 1949 finds itself in. It will not make its continuation as the junior partner in the ruling CDU/CSU/SPD coalition government in Berlin any easier.

The right-wing, xenophobic Alternative for Germany (AfD) has entered parliament in Munich for the first time and the spectacular rise in the Green party, which is pro-immigration and pro-European Union, simply shows how divided Germany is.

What the results also suggest is that German attitudes towards immigrants — and more broadly the Arab world — are unlikely to change. There is one caveat here. Elections take place soon in Hesse. If the AFD fails to make spectacular advances then, it will confirm the above. German state policy will be steady as she goes.

As it is, Merkel has been tougher on controls. The number of immigrants is down, so the pressure is off.

Anti-immigration feelings undoubtedly played a part in the October 14 vote. The CSU and its leader Horst Seehofer, who is the interior minister in the coalition government in Berlin, has been seeking to outflank the AfD and picking endless quarrels on immigration with Merkel since last summer. Many CSU voters who are worried about what they see as too high levels of immigration as Muslim threats to a very traditional region of Germany voted for the AfD rather than its copycat but greater numbers deserted to the Greens.

Those who switched to the AfD confirm what has been observed in France. When the traditional conservative party, Les Republicains, tries to outbid the xenophobic National Front on fear of a Muslim invasion of Europe, it invariably loses. Nor were conservative voters happy to see the CSU leader weaken the government in Berlin. For all their dislike of Merkel’s policy, many voters have a basic respect for the chancellor.

The sizeable vote for the AfD (10%) was less than feared. It offered a reminder that many Germans are unlikely to forgive the chancellor for her opening of the German borders in 2015.

That said, the question remains of whether the AfD had reached a high-water mark, especially in western Germany. In eastern Germany as riots in Chemnitz last summer demonstrated, the AfD remains a potent force.

Scaremongering about the extreme right is common as is the use of Islam to frighten electors but there have been far fewer terrorist outrages in the European Union this year than in the recent past. Electors are also worried about the environment, their standard of living and the rising cost of health care.

In a broader sense, what Bavarian electors confirmed is that the centre of German politics has imploded. The Christian Democrats have seen their national ratings slide and face a difficult contest in Hesse. The implosion of the SPD has left the door open for the Greens, the far-left der Linke and the AfD.

The grand coalition in Berlin followed the national elections in September 2017 when the two parties, which have dominated German politics for 70 years, won 53.4% of the vote, the worst result for each party since the creation of the Federal Republic in 1949. A recent ARD-Deutschland opinion poll said this had fallen to a combined 41% — 26% for the CDU-CSU and 15% for the SPD.

This fundamental shift in the German political landscape since the restoration of democracy after the second world war makes the formation of coalitions at the national level an increasingly difficult task. Merkel is in the twilight of her tenure as prime minister.

In such circumstances, policy towards the Middle East and immigration are more unlikely to change as that region is going through a very turbulent period. Placating Turkey to keep as many refugees on its own territory, restricting the entry of would-be immigrants and attempting to defuse attacks against immigrant centres — these hallmarks of recent German policy are here to stay.

The defeat of the CSU in Bavaria and the elections in Hesse, barring a strong advance of the AfD, would not appear to make a great difference to Germany’s new tough policy on immigration and its traditional wariness in getting too closely involved with Middle Eastern and Turkish affairs.

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