Germany: Far-right AfD wins top post in local government

Robert Sesselmann, candidate of the Alternative for Germany (AfD), which is listed in the 2022 report put out by the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution as a suspected right-wing extremist group, has won the run-off election for the office of district leader in Sonneberg, Thuringia. This is the first time the party has won such an important office in local government. Sesselmann received 52.8 percent of the vote, while the CDU candidate Jürgen Köpper, who was supported by the SPD, the Left Party, the Greens and the FDP, garnered 47.2 percent. Europe’s press takes a closer look.

La Repubblica (IT) /

Warnings had the opposite effect

La Repubblica is amazed that the AfD candidate was able to make gains in the second round of voting:

“A fortnight ago, in the first round, Sesselmann already won almost half the votes. And the entire opposition had mobilised against him. From the CDU to the Left, everyone had urged voters to go to the polls, partly because turnout had been low. But the mobilisation had the opposite effect. ... The higher turnout in the second round mainly benefited the candidate of the far right. Sesselmann campaigned with a ‘no’ to the euro and to support for Ukraine. ... He earned much applause for his hate tirades against the Greens in government and the new law that will oblige Germans to replace their heating systems in the next few years.”

Tonia Mastrobuoni
De Standaard (BE) /

Principles or pragmatism?

Germany now faces a dilemma, De Standaard explains:

“The question of whether cooperation with the far right is conceivable is no longer hypothetical. Will other politicians stand firm or will pragmatism win out? The debate has now flared up in Germany. Is Sesselmann’s election the result of protest votes against unpopular measures by those currently in power, or do his supporters truly agree with his radical positions? The answer is important because it is decisive for what strategy the other parties should adopt to counter the far right. Should extremist ideas be fought with arguments alone, or above all with different policies?”

Ruben Mooijman
The Spectator (GB) /

Try to understand instead of demonising

Instead of demonising the AfD, the other parties should look at why it is securing more and more support, historian Katja Hoyer urges in The Spectator:

“The AfD is not the cause of but a vent for the widespread sense of crisis. Discussions on how to stop, ban or exclude the AfD from government don’t address the concerns that draw large sections of the electorate to them. As uncomfortable as it may be for the politicians of Germany’s mainstream parties to listen to the fifth of the public who are currently on track to vote for the AfD, listen they must. Assuming the electorate is wrong makes a mockery of the principles on which democracies are built.”

Katja Hoyer
Zeit Online (DE) /

Sometimes not listening is better than listening

Zeit Online says the civic-minded camp is now faced with a simple question:

“Should it continue to listen to the AfD until at some point civic-mindedness becomes nothing more than a veneer? Or should it counter the populists with a progressive agenda? This is not to say that the current ‘traffic light’ coalition [SPD, FDP and Greens] is doing everything right (certainly not), but they would be abandoning their identity as a progressive government if they betrayed their own principles because of a radicalised minority. ... Democracy means: the majority decides, not the population as a whole. Even if the AfD secures 20 percent nationwide, that is not a majority. Or, to put it another way: perhaps sometimes not listening makes more sense than listening.”

Mark Schieritz
Lidové noviny (CZ) /

Panicking for no reason

Lidové noviny is not so much irritated by the result of the election as by the reaction of the German public:

“Germany’s political and media establishment is falling prey to fears that border on hysteria. But the question is whether Germany is really threatened by a wave of extremism. To be clear: the Sonneberg district has 57,000 inhabitants. They represent 0.068 percent of the German population. ... If the AfD really is such a threat to democracy and constitutionality, why don’t the others take the matter to the Federal Constitutional Court?”

Zbyněk Petráček