ERFURT: Germany’s far-right AfD party faces a key test of support in a state election in former communist east Germany on Sunday, following national outrage over a deadly shooting at a synagogue.
The campaign in Thuringia has featured death threats, arson and Nazi rhetoric and the AfD’s candidate is Bjoern Hoecke, who heads up the most extreme wing of Alternative for Germany (AfD).
As in other parts of east Germany, the anti-immigrant, anti-establishment party is expected to make strong gains.
But opinion surveys suggest support for the AfD has softened slightly to around 20-24 percent in the wake of the attack on October 9, which has fuelled concern over growing right-wing threats.
The AfD is vying for second place with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU conservatives, with the far-left Die Linke tipped to hold onto the top spot thanks to the popularity of its local leader Bodo Ramelow.
With a population of just over two million people and an agreement between parties not to govern with the AfD, Thuringia’s election is unlikely to cause any political earthquakes in Berlin.
But the vote is being closely watched as a snapshot of the mood in the AfD heartland after a suspected neo-Nazi shot dead two people in the eastern city of Halle.
The gunman had earlier tried and failed to storm a packed synagogue on the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur.
The AfD’s Hoecke tweeted his outrage at the assault, but immediately came under fire from critics who said his own anti-Jewish remarks had stoked hatred and violence.
Bavarian state premier Markus Soeder, of Merkel’s CSU sister party, called on the AfD to expel Hoecke, who has labelled Berlin’s Holocaust memorial a “monument of shame” and called for a “180-degree shift” in Germany’s remembrance culture.
Last month Hoecke, 47, stormed out of a television interview after some of his statements were likened to those of Adolf Hitler.
Hoecke later complained that the media have cast him as “the devil of the nation”.
But the former history teacher is controversial even in his own party as leaders fear he could scare off mainstream voters.
“The AfD would possibly do better (in Thuringia) without Bjoern Hoecke,” professor Juergen Falter from the university of Mainz told the Bild daily.
“But he isn’t enough of a deterrent to do serious damage to the AfD.” – AFP