BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany’s euroskeptic Alternative for Germany (AfD) party surged to win more than 10 percent of the vote in two states on Sunday so the right-wing rival to Chancellor Angela Merkel will now have seats in three state assemblies, TV projections showed.
The AfD, which was founded in early 2013 to oppose euro zone bailouts, won 10.1 percent of the vote in Thuringia and 11.9 percent in Brandenburg, according to projections on Germany’s ARD TV announced after voting ended at 6 p.m. (Noon EDT)
The party had already won a shock 9.7 percent in an election in Saxony two weeks ago on a campaign that is now also heavily focused on law and order. The AfD fell just short of the 5 percent hurdle in last year’s federal election but is now polling around 7 percent nationally.
AfD leader Bernd Lucke, a 52-year-old economics professor and father of five, said the strong results in two more eastern states add to the momentum of the party, which also won 7 percent of the vote in May’s European parliamentary election.
“We’re delighted that voters have made the choice for a political renewal,” Lucke told German TV. “The results are even better than in Saxony and will give us enormous tailwind. We’re not going to sit still and let the other parties bad-mouth us.”
Some political analysts had predicted the AfD would wither away like the once trendy Pirates party. The party was beset by infighting and struggled to stem an exodus of members earlier this year.
Most damaging, in a country where far-right views are not tolerated in politics because of the Nazi past, were allegations the AfD was being hijacked by extremists.
But Lucke managed to silence the more radical elements in the party and broadened the AfD’s message. It was originally a one issue party calling for a return to the Deutsche Mark. Issues now part of its campaign include education, security and support for small businesses.
Even though Merkel’s party was once again the largest in the state of Thuringia, it was unclear if the SPD would join forces with the CDU again in another “grand coalition” there similar to the federal government in Berlin.
In Thuringia, Merkel’s CDU won 34.4 percent but it is unclear if they will stay in power. Their junior coalition partners, the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), which won 12.3 percent, may switch to support the Left party, which won 27.7 percent, in a coalition with the Greens, which won 5.6 percent.
That would give Germany its first Left state premier - a three-way alliance that could one day rule at the federal level after the SPD dropped its self-imposed ban after the 2013 election.
Merkel has campaigned heavily against the specter of a Left-SPD-Greens alliance, warning the SPD in Thuringia against forming a coalition to install the first hardline Left party state premier.
In the state of Brandenburg, the SPD came out on top with 32.5 percent and looks likely to continue its coalition with the Left party, which won 19.2 percent. Merkel’s CDU won 22.1 percent and the Greens won 6.4 percent.
Reporting by Erik Kirschbaum and Michelle Martin; editing by Ralph Boulton