The German Populists Who Want Merkel Gone

  • First seats in Bundestag give AfD its biggest platform yet
  • Anti-immigration party plans to use its parliamentary powers

Bloomberg's Rainer Buergin Reports on the AfD's Rise

Alternative for Germany, or AfD, is projected to win more than 13 percent of the vote in Sunday’s national election, giving the anti-immigration, anti-Islam party its biggest political platform yet. Here’s a look at the history, personalities and legislative powers of the first far-right faction to take seats in the Bundestag since the immediate aftermath of World War II:

Where did the AfD come from?

The youngest party in parliament, Alternative for Germany started in 2013 as an anti-euro movement and won 4.7 percent in that year’s national election, just short of the 5 percent margin needed to win Bundestag seats. After infighting over the party’s direction, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s handling of the refugee crisis in 2015 saved the party from disintegration and gave it a new lease on life, according to Alexander Gauland, who co-led the AfD’s campaign. Sunday’s national result wasn’t a complete surprise: the AfD has won seats in 13 of Germany’s 16 state legislatures, including a 24.3 percent share of the vote in the eastern region of Saxony Anhalt last year.

What do they want?

The party’s platform calls for immediate closing of Germany’s borders to stop “unregulated mass immigration,” including many “illiterates” who can’t be integrated into society. It wants Germany’s liberal political-asylum rules reframed to serve the national interest, a referendum on leaving the euro and returning to the deutsche mark, and economic sanctions on Russia lifted. The EU should be organized more as a club of sovereign nation states and German culture must be protected against “Islamization,” according to the AfD.

What does it mean for Germany’s political system?

The AfD’s success, combined with the anti-capitalist Left party’s score, means more than one in five voters supported the political fringe. Even so, all established parties say they won’t partner with the AfD. For now, the most likely option for Merkel may be to seek out the Free Democrats and the Green party as partners for her next government, after the Social Democratic Party said it wants to go into opposition.

What leverage does the AfD have now?

Parliamentary seats give the AfD access to sensitive information discussed behind closed doors in committees, including intelligence-gathering and financial policy. The party plans to seek a parliamentary inquiry into Merkel’s handling of the refugee crisis, which would run for months and include the power to demand testimony. The influence extends further into society: lawmakers also traditionally are given seats on supervisory boards of institutions such as state-owned lender KfW Group and the country’s public broadcasters. Like other parties in parliament, the AfD will be eligible for federal campaign funds.

Who are their leaders?

Based on projections, more than 80 AfD members will hold Bundestag seats for the next four years. Most of the likely lawmakers, including Gauland, defected from Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, with others coming primarily from the Free Democrats and Social Democrats. Squabbling is always a possibility. There’s a rivalry between party co-leader Frauke Petry, who led a failed bid to isolate the AfD’s extremist fringes, and joint campaign leaders Gauland and Alice Weidel, who holds a PhD in business administration. Then there are those like Wilhelm von Gottberg, 77, who called the Holocaust a tool “for the criminalization of Germans and their history,” according to German weekly Die Zeit.

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