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Ger­many’s far-right AfD scored strong gains Sun­day in the ex-com­mu­nist east­ern state of Thuringia, home to one of its most rad­i­cal fig­ures, beat­ing main­stream par­ties such as An­gela Merkel’s cen­tre-right CDU, exit polls showed.

ER­FURT, Ger­many (AFP) — Ger­many’s far-right AfD scored strong gains Sun­day in the ex-com­mu­nist east­ern state of Thuringia, home to one of its most rad­i­cal fig­ures, beat­ing main­stream par­ties such as An­gela Merkel’s cen­ter-right CDU, exit polls showed.

While pop­u­lar pre­mier Bodo Ramelow’s far-left Die Linke party eas­ily won with just un­der 30 per­cent, the Al­ter­na­tive for Ger­many scored at least 23 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to pub­lic broad­cast­ers ARD and ZDF, more than dou­bling its re­sult in the pre­vi­ous elec­tion in 2014.

This put the anti-im­mi­gra­tion party in sec­ond spot, nar­rowly ahead of Merkel’s Chris­tian Democrats, who won about 22 per­cent, their worst score in this re­gion since Ger­man re­uni­fi­ca­tion in 1990.

But they were still and far ahead of their coali­tion part­ners, the once pow­er­ful So­cial Democrats (SPD) who scored only eight per­cent.

The AfD’s strong re­sult came de­spite wide­spread crit­i­cism after an Oc­to­ber 9 at­tack in the east­ern city of Halle, where a sus­pected neo-Nazi gun­man tried and failed to storm a syn­a­gogue then shot dead two peo­ple out­side.

After the bloody at­tack, the com­mis­sioner for com­bat­ing anti-Semitism, Felix Klein, like many other crit­ics, ar­gued that the AfD had traf­ficked in in­cen­di­ary anti-Jewish sen­ti­ment.

Re­crim­i­na­tions

The Thuringia cam­paign has been marked by anger, threats and re­crim­i­na­tions, with CDU can­di­date Mike Mohring la­bel­ing the AfD’s lo­cal leader, the na­tion­al­ist hard­liner Bjo­ern Hoecke, a “Nazi.”

A tri­umphant Hoecke told sup­port­ers on Sun­day that the state, 30 years after the fall of the Ber­lin Wall, had voted for a sec­ond rev­o­lu­tion, a “Tran­si­tion 2.0,” and de­liv­ered “a clear ‘no’ to the os­si­fied party land­scape.”

The AfD, he added, was in the process of be­com­ing a ma­jor party na­tion­ally.

For the So­cial Democrats in par­tic­u­lar, this was a dev­as­tat­ing re­sult which may strengthen the hand of those in the party push­ing the lead­er­ship to quit the grand coali­tion they have with the CDU na­tion­ally.

The rise of the AfD has made it harder for the other par­ties to form a gov­ern­ing coali­tion, boost­ing the likely role of smaller play­ers with sin­gle-digit re­sults such as the much re­duced SPD and the Greens.

In Thuringia, the only state ruled by Die Linke, the post-elec­tion sit­u­a­tion is com­pli­cated fur­ther by the CDU’s re­fusal to co­op­er­ate with the hard-left party, de­spite the rel­a­tively mod­er­ate stance of Ramelow, a for­mer trade union of­fi­cial who takes a prag­matic line.

In the east­ern states of Sax­ony and Bran­den­burg last month, the AfD also scored above 20 per­cent to be­come the sec­ond-largest force. It is weaker in the west of the coun­try, but na­tion­ally ap­pears to have around 15 per­cent sup­port.

EPA-Yon­hap

Top can­di­date of the Al­ter­na­tive for Ger­many (AfD) right-wing pop­ulist party Bjo­ern Hoecke, cen­ter, re­acts next to AfD fed­eral co-chair­man Alexan­der Gauland, left, and AfD Bun­destag mem­ber Ar­minPaul Ham­pel, right, after exit polls on the evening of the Thuringia state elec­tions at an AfD event in Er­furt, Ger­many, Sun­day.

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