Ger­many gets ready for elec­tion

The Sunday Telegraph - - World News -

When is it? Next Sun­day.

Who are the con­tenders? Mrs Merkel and Martin Schulz of the So­cial Demo­cratic Party.

Who else is run­ning? One can­di­date is Chris­tian Lind­ner, of the pro-free trade Free Demo­cratic Party (FDP). Bri­tain hopes Mr Lind­ner will put pres­sure on Ger­many to en­sure a Brexit deal be­tween the UK and EU.

Who is ex­pected to win?

Mrs Merkel.

Ger­many. “I’m not try­ing to in­flame any­one,” Mr Gauland says. “She said there is no Ger­man cul­ture be­yond the Ger­man lan­guage and I said if she feels that way she should take a long hol­i­day some­where she feels more com­fort­able.”

He re­jects the for­eign min­is­ter’s com­par­i­son of his party with the Nazis. “I don’t be­lieve Sig­mar Gabriel is stupid enough to re­ally be­lieve we are Nazis,” he said. Two weeks ago, most ob­servers had writ­ten off the AfD’s chances in the elec­tion. Riven by in­fight­ing, the party had made what ap­peared to be a fa­tal er­ror when it voted to marginalise Frauke Petry, its of­fi­cial leader widely seen as its strong­est elec­toral as­set, and en­trust the cam­paign in­stead to a joint ticket of Mr Gauland and Alice Wei­del, a fig­ure lit­tle known out­side the party.

Sup­port dropped from 15 per cent last year to sin­gle fig­ures. But judg­ing by the AfD’s late surge in the polls, it ap­pears Mr Gauland’s tac­tics are work­ing. The party’s core is­sue is im­mi­gra­tion, which plays well in Mr Gauland’s con­stituency of Frank­furt an der Oder where jobs are scarce.

“We don’t want to be the world’s door­mat,” Mr Gauland tells the crowd. “We want our coun­try back.” He claims to have fig­ures show­ing that there will be 240mil­lion more Mus­lims in Europe by 2050.

An­other of the party’s themes is op­po­si­tion to the sin­gle currency. But Mr Gauland is no fan of Brexit: the AfD wants to re­form the EU from within.

“I am not happy about Brexit,” he tells the crowd. “I would have pre­ferred the Bri­tish to stay in the EU, as a prag­matic coun­ter­weight to the Brus­sels bu­reau­cracy. We want a Europe of fa­ther­lands.”

The word Vater­land has the same his­toric as­so­ci­a­tions in Ger­man as it does in English. While it has a Ger­man flavour, a lot of the rhetoric is fa­mil­iar from re­cent for­eign pop­ulist cam­paigns, and Mr Gauland tips his hat to Don­ald Trump. “Trump is dif­fer­ent from other politicians, be­cause he is ac­tu­ally do­ing what he promised,” he tells the crowd.

Af­ter the event, he ac­knowl­edges he is un­likely to be in a po­si­tion to de­liver on any of his own prom­ises. “Even if we get 20, 22 per cent, we’re go­ing to be in op­po­si­tion,” he con­cedes. “All the other par­ties have said they will not go into coali­tion with us.”

All the same, many in Ger­many are won­der­ing how well the party could do. Gero Nege­bauer, a po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist at Ber­lin’s Free Univer­sity, said: “If you look at the polls, 40 to 46 per cent say they haven’t made up their minds, and we have no idea how the poll­sters are fac­tor­ing that into their cal­cu­la­tions.

“On top of that you have the ques­tion of shy AfD vot­ers, peo­ple who might not want to say they’re go­ing to vote for the party in pub­lic be­cause of the neg­a­tive pub­lic­ity, but who could choose it in the pri­vacy of the vot­ing booth.”

Given the po­si­tion from which it en­tered the cam­paign, com­ing third would not be a de­feat for the party, it would be a vic­tory.

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