Germany's anti-euro party eyes first wins in western state

12th February 2015, Comments 0 comments

Germany's populist anti-euro AfD party hopes to win its first parliamentary seats in a western state Sunday when voters in Hamburg, its leader's home city, go to the polls.

A success in the city-state would embolden the Alternative for Germany as it seeks to claw away votes from the fringes of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

The party hopes to gain from renewed eurozone concerns about crisis-hit Greece, where a new left-wing government has demanded an end to austerity and a debt renegotiation.

Party leader Bernd Lucke this month said he was grateful to Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras for having "stood up to show everyone in the EU that things simply can't continue as they are".

Hamburg's government, however, is expected to stay firmly in the hands of the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD), who have polled at around 45 percent, under incumbent city mayor Olaf Scholz, 56.

"If we don't get enough (votes), I'll ask the Greens" to join a coalition government, Scholz has said, opting for an alliance with the ecologist party over teaming up with conservatives or other groups.

Lucke, a former Hamburg University economics professor, who is now a European parliamentarian, has seen his party poll locally at just above five percent, the threshold for entry into the assembly.

- Centre-left bastion -

The AfD, founded only two years ago, narrowly missed out on seats in 2013 national elections but last year gained entry into three eastern German state assemblies as well as the European parliament.

In Hamburg "I presume they'll get in, but with clearly less support than in Brandenburg, Saxony and Thuringia" states, where they scored between 9.7 and 12.2 percent, said political scientist Kai-Uwe Schnapp of Hamburg University.

The AfD's initial battle cry was for Germany to leave the euro and return to the Deutschmark, but it has also flirted with right-wing positions on immigration, law and order and family values.

Some of its top figures have voiced support for the anti-Islamic PEGIDA movement, which began rallying in the eastern city of Dresden in October but recently lost support in the face of counter protests, internal strife and scandal.

While the AfD has so far done well in the formerly communist East, which continues to lag the west in jobs and economic growth, it now hopes for gains in the wealthy commercial and trade centre of Hamburg.

Hamburg -- a city of 1.8 million, known for its container port, many low-profile millionaires and the seedy harbourside district where the Beatles once played their first bar gigs -- has traditionally been a bastion of centre-left politics.

The election campaign has been relatively bland, focused mainly on public transport issues, amid broad agreement on other matters such as the city's plan to compete with capital Berlin to bid for the 2024 Olympics.

Residents from age 16, two years younger than the national voting age, will be able to cast their ballots for a 121-strong assembly which is to sit for five years.

At the national level, Merkel's CDU and its Bavarian allies the CSU remain dominant at 42 percent against their coalition partners the SPD, who scored 23 percent in a Forsa survey this week.

The Greens had the support of 10 percent and the far-left Linke scored nine percent in the survey, conducted last Sunday and published Wednesday by news weekly Stern and RTL television.

The AfD polled six percent nationwide, ahead of five percent for the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP), who narrowly missed that hurdle in 2013 elections and were kicked out of the Bundestag lower house.


© 2015 AFP

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