Sunday's Saxony-Anhalt election, explained

Voters head to the polls in the eastern state this weekend. The AfD is expected to fare well.

A market in downdown Magdeburg, the capital of Saxony-Anhalt.
A market in downdown Magdeburg, the capital of Saxony-Anhalt.

Berlin-This Sunday, voters head to the ballot box in the small eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt. Fears run high that the far-right populist AfD will achieve a record result. 

Most surveys have chancellor Angela Merkel's centre-right CDU slightly ahead of the anti-immigrant AfD. And observers expect the incumbent premier, Reiner Haseloff (CDU), to lead the next state government.

However, a poll conducted by the tabloid Bild and pollster INSA on 26 May raised new fears of an AfD victory, with the rightwingers nudging ahead of the CDU by one percentage point. On Thursday this week, a Civey poll had the AfD coming in at 28 per cent, just one point below the CDU.

An AfD win would be the first for the party at state level. Even if they manage to garner the most votes, though, it will be near-impossible for them to form a government, since all other parties have vowed not to cooperate. It would nonetheless trigger a shockwave of concern across the country. 

One likely outcome is a continuation of the current governing coalition of the CDU, the centre-left SPD and the ecologist Greens (nicknamed the Kenya coalition because the parties' colours are those of the country's flag). The alliance was born out of necessity to avoid a coalition with the AfD after the last election and there's little love between the CDU and Greens. Therefore, a so-called Deutschland coalition (again, the colours of the flag), with the pro-business FDP replacing the Greens, is probable should the "yellow" FDP win enough seats to make it into parliament. 

The election is the last of three purely state elections in the German "super election year". In earlier contests in Rhineland-Pfalz and Baden-Württemberg, the Greens fared well while support for the CDU withered. The two parties are the main rivals in the national elections scheduled for 26 September. Support for both is hovering around 25 per cent.

Observers have noted that support for the AfD has stabilised in Saxony-Anhalt and elsewhere in former East Germany even though their core issue -mass immigration - has fallen off of the list of concerns for many voters. Pundits chalk their success in the east to widespread anger at the political class in Berlin, the mainstream media, and the country's elite in general, which many feel are biased towards easterners. 

It didn't help when Marco Wanderwitz (CDU), the federal goverment's commissioner for eastern Germany, recently said on a podcast, that - in reference to Ossis - "We are dealing with people who have been socialised by dictatorship in such a way that even after 30 years they have not arrived in democracy."

Saxony-Anhalt is the poorest state in Germany. Since German reunification, its population has shrunk by a quarter, thanks to the exodus of young people. Consequently, its citizens are, on average, the oldest of any German state.

The state is known for its far-right scene. In winter 2020, a rightwing extremist attacked a synagogue with a homemade gun in the Saxony-Anhalt city of Halle, killing two.

The top AfD candidate Oliver Kirchner previously belonged to the disbanded extreme-right Flügel section of the party. Deportation of foreigners seems to be the main focus of his campaign rallies. He once called the Holocaust "a lie" in a chat group.

Benjamin Höhne of Berlin's Institute for Parliamentary Research, said on ZDF Thursday that the "AfD has replaced Die Linke as the protest party of the East." Support for the leftwing party, once high in the east, is languishing at around 10 per cent.

We'll bring you the election results after polls close Sunday evening.

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