Far right ex­pected to make gains in Ger­man re­gional vote

Antelope Valley Press (Sunday) - - Second Front - By FRANK JORDANS

BER­LIN — Po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents say he’s a Nazi and a court re­cently ruled he can be called a fas­cist, but to many Ger­mans an­gry about im­mi­gra­tion Bjo­ern Hoecke is the leader they’ve been wait­ing for.

The 47-year-old for­mer his­tory teacher is pre­dicted to lead the far-right Al­ter­na­tive for Ger­many party to third or even se­cond place in a re­gional elec­tion Sun­day, de­spite be­ing con­sid­ered a pos­si­ble ex­trem­ist threat by the coun­try’s do­mes­tic in­tel­li­gence agency.

A poll re­leased Fri­day by pub­lic broad­caster ZDF fore­cast that the party, known by its Ger­man acro­nym AfD, would re­ceive 21% of the vote in Thuringia, al­most dou­bling its 2014 re­sult in the cen­tral state with a pop­u­la­tion of 2.1 mil­lion. The gov­ern­ing coali­tion of three left-wing par­ties is ex­pected to lose its ma­jor­ity, ac­cord­ing to the sur­vey of 1,177 vot­ers which had a margin of er­ror of up to 3 per­cent­age points.

The vote in Thuringia, one of Ger­many’s 16 states, re­flects the dif­fi­culty that main­stream par­ties have had con­fronting a politi­cian who openly es­pouses racial ide­ol­ogy, has crit­i­cized Ger­many’s ef­forts to atone for the Holo­caust and has ques­tioned whether Adolf Hitler was “en­tirely evil” — po­si­tions that would have been con­sid­ered be­yond the pale by most Ger­man vot­ers un­til re­cently.

Like in other for­merly com­mu­nist east­ern Ger­man states where AfD is par­tic­u­larly strong, the out­come of Sun­day’s vote could force new, pre­vi­ously untested al­liances be­tween erst­while po­lit­i­cal en­e­mies united chiefly in their re­fusal to co­op­er­ate with the far right.

“I be­lieve Hoecke is a Nazi,” Mike Mohring, the lead can­di­date in Thuringia for Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel’s con­ser­va­tive Chris­tian Democrats, told vot­ers this week. He made it clear his party won’t team up with AfD, even though to­gether they could get a ma­jor­ity.

In a book pub­lished last year, Hoecke laid out his view that a “strong broom” is re­quired to “clear the pigsty,” mak­ing clear that he would tar­get mi­grants and po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents us­ing “well-tem­pered cru­elty” if nec­es­sary.

Such lan­guage has alarmed even mem­bers of Hoecke’s own party, which has twice tried un­suc­cess­fully to kick him out . For­mer party leader Frauke Petry ar­gued there was

suf­fi­cient ev­i­dence to show that Hoecke had writ­ten pseudony­mous ar­ti­cles for neo-Nazi mag­a­zines, a con­clu­sion shared by Ger­many’s do­mes­tic in­tel­li­gence agency.

Hoecke has de­nied writ­ing for neo-Nazi mag­a­zines or be­ing an ex­trem­ist. Still, he marched pub­licly along­side known ex­trem­ists at a rally last year and last month a re­gional court re­jected Hoecke’s com­plaint against protesters who de­scribed him as a “fas­cist,” cit­ing the con­tents of his book.

A good re­sult in Thuringia could ce­ment Hoecke’s po­si­tion within the party, of­fer­ing him a strong plat­form in an up­com­ing lead­er­ship elec­tion.

Since its found­ing in 2013, the party has drifted steadily to the right, em­brac­ing many of the po­si­tions pre­vi­ously held by fringe par­ties while also at­tract­ing con­ser­va­tive vot­ers un­happy with Merkel’s lib­eral poli­cies on im­mi­gra­tion.

Ger­many’s se­cu­rity ser­vices have warned that far-right ex­trem­ists feel in­creas­ingly em­bold­ened, cit­ing the killing in June of a mod­er­ate politi­cian from Merkel’s party who was shot dead by a sus­pected neo-Nazi, and the anti-Semitic shoot­ing this month in Halle in which two peo­ple were killed.

Other par­ties have ac­cused AfD of fuel­ing vi­o­lence against po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents and mi­nori­ties with its vo­cal crit­i­cism of im­mi­gra­tion, a charge the party has strongly de­nied.

Ham­mer­ing home his mes­sage to vot­ers in the fi­nal days of the cam­paign, Hoecke said AfD would “launch a de­por­ta­tion of­fen­sive 2020 if we get into gov­ern­ment.”

As­so­ci­ated Press

Elec­tion posters of sev­eral par­ties hang on a road lamp in front of the par­lia­ment ad­min­is­tra­tion build­ing in Er­furt, Ger­many, Fri­day.

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