The results of the German elections seemed to cut the trend of surprising political situations that had led to the rise of populist ideas. However, a closer view of the results shows that they are not so different from the shock that the election of Donald Trump and the Brexit caused across the world. The countries chancellor, Angela Merkel, was elected for her fourth term. Based on various aspects of the election results, they represented a triumph for extremists rather than moderation of populism.
At a first glance, the results seem to indicate a major victory for moderation. Throughout Merkel’s term, she has been known to be a conservative leader who prioritizes moderation over anything else (Taub, 2017). Although this kind of leadership is not new in Germany, it tends to contrast the aggressive international and local policies that characterized nineteenth-century Germany. Merkel has never seemed to be in a hurry to initiate new policies to act on certain things; she always takes her time. Although her approach sometimes frustrates the German people, it is favored by many. Many Germans have seen her as a careful leader who puts the interest of the German people at heart. She grew up in East Germany and, thus, experienced many hardships in her childhood. These difficulties could be the explanation for her cautious approach to many situations. Despite her outer softness, she is resolute and tough too as evidenced in her stance on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the refugees’ crisis. However, her decisions on the refugees issue almost cost her the re-election. In fact, her easy win was not majorly down to her popularity, but the conspicuous lack of strong competitors.
Conversely, it was not all too good for populism. As the election results revealed, the mainstream and the left-wing parties who advanced populism had lost some of their popularity to extremists. For Merkel, an established populist, her decreased margin of victory and the fact that she majorly won because of the lack of a worth competitor shows the losses that populism had made (Taub, 2017). In this aspect, Germany differed slightly from the events of Trump election and the Brexit, which have populism in their center. As such, it would certainly be right to say that Merkel’s populist slogan did not do much to sell her. Indeed, it was an obvious loss for populists in Germany. Issues such as international policy and that of refugees, which is non-populist, were at the center of events leading up to the elections.
The German election was a big victory for the extremists. For the first time in German history, the extreme right-wingers, who vehemently oppose Islam among other things, will be represented in parliament (Decker, 2008; Langenbacher, 2011). Moreover, having garnered almost 11% of the votes cast, the extremists will form a key part of the German opposition for the next presidential term. Germany, thus, like many other European countries including Belgium and Norway, is changing tide; the right-wing extremists as slowly taking center stage. Unlike the other European countries though, opinion polls in Germany revealed that those who voted for the extremists did so because the mainstream political parties had either bored or disappointed them – the extremists provided an alternative.
A closer look at the election results and the events that occurred in the lead-up to the election reveal that it was a big triumph for the extremist right-wingers as voters saw them as alternatives to the boring and disappointing mainstream politics. The fact that many individuals voted for Merkel because they lacked a serious alternative represents the failure of both populism and moderation. Moreover, the dissatisfaction of many German voters with Merkel’s immigration policy confirm the failure of populism and the gain of extremists. The results of the election, therefore, support the Langenbacher’s (2011) notion that right-wing extremism is on a rapid rise in Europe and maybe chaotic for the European political future.
- Decker, F. (2008). Germany: Right-wing populist failures and left-wing successes. In Twenty-First Century Populism (pp. 119-134). Palgrave Macmillan UK. https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230592100_8
- Langenbacher, N. (Ed.). (2011). Is Europe on the “right” Path?: Right-wing Extremism and Right-wing Populism in Europe. Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, Forum Berlin.
- Taub, A. (2017, September 26). What the Far Right’s Rise May Mean for Germany’s Future – The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/26/world/europe/germany-far-right-election.html