German president calls far-right surge in polls ‘worrying’

Traditional parties need to offer solutions to combat far-right fear mongering, Frank-Walter Steinmeier said. His comments come after the AfD won its first governing post in Sonneberg last month

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier gave his summer interview with ZDF editor-in-chief Bettina Schausten
Deutsche Welle

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said the surge of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party in the polls was “worrying” in an interview on Sunday.

As part of his summer interview with broadcaster ZDF, the German president said far-right parties were preying on voters’ fears without offering solutions.

“We must not encourage the business of fear-mongers in this society any further,” Steinmeier said.

“What we need is not a boom of fear-mongers, but a boom of problem-solvers. And it’s not as if we don’t have any of those.”

Steinmeier said the rise of the AfD shows that traditional parties have not adequately addressed the concerns of certain parts of the population.

The AfD polled at 20 per cent in a recent nationwide survey, making it the second-most popular party. It is now eyeing wins in upcoming state elections in the east.

“Yes, the polls are worrying,” Steinmeier said.

“But they must not lead us to automatically classify every critical question as populism and right-wing extremism.”

Steinmeier warns against protest votes

Steinmeier’s comments come after the far-right AfD won its first victory for a governing position last month.

On 25 June, AfD candidate Robert Sesselmann was elected as district administrator in the small eastern town of Sonneberg.

All other parties had thrown their support behind the incumbent conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) candidate Jürgen Köpper.

Shortly thereafter, the AfD’s Hannes Loth was also elected the party’s first-ever mayor in the small town of Raguhn-Jessnitz, which lies in the eastern German state of Saxony-Anhalt. Steinmeier warned Germans against protest voting, where people spoil their ballot to express dissatisfaction, in such situations.

“Every voter takes responsibility for what he or she does,” he said.

This also applies, he said, if one “strengthens a party that contributes to the brutalisation of the debate.”