The state election in Saxony on Sunday made some waves in Germany. While the Christian Democratic Party (CDU) was able to sustain its leadership of the state, despite its worst results in a quarter century, the fact that the upstart Alternative for Germany (AfD) gained 10 percent shook up Berlin. It was the first victory of Germany’s newest political actor on the stage at the state level. The fact that a substantial source of support for the AfD came from disgruntled CDU voters was seen as an early warning for Chancellor Merkel that, despite her own popularity, her party may be losing traction at the state level.
The AfD’s results made it a plausible coalition partner in Saxony’s future government under the continued leadership of Stanislaw Tillich. But that option was dismissed by Tillich, leaving the likely option to be a coalition with the Social Democrats to mirror the national government coalition in Berlin. Despite the fact that the SPD (12 percent) polled below the Left Party( 19 percent) Tillich is expected to reject a coalition with the Linke, leaving it to be a strong opposition party in the state parliament along with the Greens(6%)
The significant losses of the Free Democrats (FDP)—no longer represented in the Parliament at all—in this election point once again at the danger of the liberal party continuing course toward disappearing from the political landscape. Over decades as a national force, the FDP has lost its last claim to be part of a state governing coalition and is now present in the opposition in only half of the sixteen states. With more state elections looming, that status may also decline further.
The leader of the FDP in Saxony, Holger Zastrow was unable to explain the inability of the party to sustain itself, expressing exasperation. “We gave everything we had. There was nothing more we could have done.”
Where and how the FDP will be able to regain momentum is unclear. But the party is running low on options.
While the political leadership in Saxony will not change after this election, the ability of the AfD to prove that it has the capacity to engage as a viable party in opposition will now be tested. Thirty years ago, the Greens faced that test and they went on to form a national government with the SPD in 1998. Whether the AfD has that kind of traction is in no way clear.
One other item—less than half of the electorate turned up at the polls on Sunday. That is something all political leaders need to register. Apathy gives those on the margins of politics room to maneuver. That is something others in Europe and in the United States have also seen in the both primaries and state elections as well as national elections. The results of the EU elections last May illustrate that tend as well.