Anti-euro party extends gains in eastern Germany

Germany's fledgling anti-euro party celebrated election gains in two eastern states today, in a show of strength that spells a growing threat for Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives.

Berlin: Germany's fledgling anti-euro party celebrated election gains in two eastern states today, in a show of strength that spells a growing threat for Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives.

"We are the force that's renewing the political landscape," said a jubilant Bernd Lucke, leader of the eurosceptic Alternative for Germany (AfD), which wants Europe's biggest economy to scrap the euro and return to the Deutschmark currency.

"I'm happy about this enormous vote of confidence," said the economics professor, adding that voters are turning away from mainstream parties that he said lack a clear message.

His nascent conservative party, which was only formed early last year, gained 10 per cent in Thuringia state and 12 per cent in Brandenburg, said exit polls by public broadcasters ARD and ZDF.

The strong results, far better than those of the long established Greens, who scored five-six per cent, and the Free Democrats, who failed to get any seats -- came two weeks after the AfD party also entered parliament in the eastern state of Saxony with almost 10 per cent.

Analysts had predicted the AfD would draw much of the protest vote in the former East Germany, which still lags western states in wealth, jobs and wages 25 years after the Berlin Wall fell.

The results give a political toehold to the party which only narrowly missed out on entering the national parliament last September and won seven seats in European Parliament elections in May.

The AfD denies seeking hardline right-wing voters, but flirts with populist ideas on issues such as law and order, immigration and traditional social values. Among its demands are a referendum that would seek to block plans to build a mosque in the eastern city of Dresden.

Merkel, worried about the AfD's growing ballot box appeal, this week said that "we must address the problems that concern the people", including "crime and rising numbers of asylum seekers".

Analysts say the AfD is seeking to occupy the political ground to the right of Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) while keeping its distance from the far-right fringe, like the openly xenophobic National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD).

Political scientist Werner Patzelt of Dresden Technical University said it was too early to tell whether the AfD, now in its political "puberty" and benefiting from a string of victories in a tight electoral calendar is here to stay.

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