Germany’s far-right AfD surges in eastern heartland vote

Top candidates for the Thuringia state election Astrid Rothe-Beinlich (Green Party), Wolfgang Tiefensee (SPD), Mike Mohring (CDU), Bodo Ramelow (Die Linke) and Bjoern Hoecke (AfD) appear in a TV studio at the state parliament in Erfurt, Germany October 27, 2019. (REUTERS)
Updated 28 October 2019

Germany’s far-right AfD surges in eastern heartland vote

  • The AfD started out as a euroskeptic fringe party before reinventing itself as an anti-Islam, anti-refugee movement to capitalize on anger over a massive influx of asylum seekers in 2015

ERFURT, Germany: Germany’s far-right AfD scored strong gains Sunday in the ex-communist eastern state of Thuringia, home to one of its most radical figures, beating mainstream parties such as Angela Merkel’s center-right CDU, exit polls showed.
While popular premier Bodo Ramelow’s far-left Die Linke party easily won with just under 30 percent, the Alternative for Germany scored at least 23 percent, according to public broadcasters ARD and ZDF, more than doubling its result in the previous election in 2014.
This put the anti-immigration party in second spot, narrowly ahead of Merkel’s Christian Democrats, who won about 22 percent, their worst score in this region since German reunification in 1990.
But they were still and far ahead of their coalition partners, the once powerful Social Democrats (SPD) who scored only eight percent.
The AfD’s strong result came despite widespread criticism after an October 9 attack in the eastern city of Halle, where a suspected neo-Nazi gunman tried and failed to storm a synagogue then shot dead two people outside.
After the bloody attack, the commissioner for combating anti-Semitism, Felix Klein, like many other critics, argued that the AfD had trafficked in incendiary anti-Jewish sentiment.

The Thuringia campaign has been marked by anger, threats and recriminations, with CDU candidate Mike Mohring labelling the AfD’s local leader, the nationalist hard-liner Bjoern Hoecke, a “Nazi.”
A triumphant Hoecke told supporters on Sunday that the state, 30 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, had voted for a second revolution, a “Transition 2.0,” and delivered “a clear ‘no’ to the ossified party landscape.”
The AfD, he added, was in the process of becoming a major party nationally.
For the Social Democrats in particular, this was a devastating result which may strengthen the hand of those in the party pushing the leadership to quit the grand coalition they have with the CDU nationally.
The rise of the AfD has made it harder for the other parties to form a governing coalition, boosting the likely role of smaller players with single-digit results such as the much reduced SPD and the Greens.
In Thuringia, the only state ruled by Die Linke, the post-election situation is complicated further by the CDU’s refusal to cooperate with the hard-left party, despite the relatively moderate stance of Ramelow, a former trade union official who takes a pragmatic line.
In the eastern states of Saxony and Brandenburg last month, the AfD also scored above 20 percent to become the second-largest force. It is weaker in the west of the country, but nationally appears to have around 15 percent support.
However, in both states the mainstream parties kept to a pact not to enter into government with the far-right party, a pledge they have also made in Thuringia.
The election in this state of just over two million people was closely watched as another snapshot of the mood in the AfD heartland, especially given the role of Hoecke, a former history teacher considered extreme even within his party.

Hoecke, 47, has labelled Berlin’s Holocaust memorial a “monument of shame” and called for a “180-degree shift” in Germany’s culture of remembrance of the crimes against humanity committed by the Nazi regime.
Signalling political ambitions at the national level, Hoecke has openly challenged the AfD’s senior leadership and was accused of a “personality cult” after marching into a hall escorted by flag-waving supporters.
The CDU’s Mohring recently declared that “to me, Hoecke is a Nazi.”
With tensions running high on the campaign trail, police have been investigating death threats against Mohring and Greens co-leader Robert Habeck, and an arson attack on an AfD campaign truck.
The AfD started out as a euroskeptic fringe party before reinventing itself as an anti-Islam, anti-refugee movement to capitalize on anger over a massive influx of asylum seekers in 2015.
Its populist message has resonated most strongly with voters in Germany’s former communist east where resentment lingers over lower wages and fewer job opportunities than in the west.
Ramelow on the eve of the vote said that “the AfD claims to be the party that cares. But in reality, it is a party that knows nothing but outrage.”


Malaysian police question Al Jazeera journalists over report on immigrants

Updated 24 min 7 sec ago

Malaysian police question Al Jazeera journalists over report on immigrants

  • Al Jazeera journalists under investigation for sedition following the broadcast of a documentary about the mistreatment of migrant workers in Kuala Lumpur
  • The 25-minute documentary, titled “Locked Up in Malaysia’s Lockdown,” was broadcast as part of Al Jazeera’s “101 East” documentary strand on July 3

KUALA LUMPUR: Six members of staff from state-owned Qatari news broadcaster Al Jazeera were questioned by police in Malaysia on Friday.

They are under investigation for sedition following the broadcast of a documentary about the mistreatment of migrant workers in Kuala Lumpur during the coronavirus lockdown.

“The documentary has ignited a backlash among the public,” said national police chief Abdul Hamid Bador. “During our investigation, we found out there were inaccuracies in the documentary that were aimed at creating a bad image of Malaysia.”

He said police have discussed the case with the attorney general and added: “We are going to give a fair investigation and a fair opportunity for them to defend themselves, in case the AG wants to file charges against them.”

The journalists, accompanied by their lawyers, were questioned at police headquarters in Kuala Lumpur.

The 25-minute documentary, titled “Locked Up in Malaysia’s Lockdown,” was broadcast as part of Al Jazeera’s “101 East” documentary strand on July 3. It highlighted the plight of undocumented migrants reportedly arrested during raids on COVID-19 lockdown hotspots. Malaysian officials said the report was inaccurate and misleading.

On Thursday, Al Jazeera said it refutes the charges and “stands by the professionalism, quality and impartiality of its journalism” and has “serious concerns about developments that have occurred in Malaysia since the broadcast of the documentary.” It added: “Al Jazeera is deeply concerned that its staff are now subject to a police investigation.”

However, the incident highlights the broadcaster’s double standards in reporting issues about migrant workers. When Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused Qatar in February of failing to implement a system to ensure construction companies pay migrant workers on time, the issue was not highlighted by Al Jazeera, the headquarters of which is in Doha.

On May 23, migrant workers staged a rare protest in Qatar over unpaid wages but Al Jazeera did not send reporters to interview the demonstrators.

Also in May, HRW said that crowded and unsanitary conditions at Doha Central Prison were exacerbating the COVID-19 threat. The organization urged Qatar to reduce the size of prison populations and ensure inmates have access to adequate medical care, along with masks, sanitizer and gloves. Again Al Jazeera did not focus on the issue.

Activists and civil-society groups criticized the Malaysian government for its heavy-handed move against Al Jazeera.

“The Malaysian government should stop trying to intimidate the media when it reports something the powers that be don’t like,” said Phil Robertson, deputy director of HRW’s Asia division. “The reality is Malaysia has treated migrant workers very shoddily and Al Jazeera has caught them out on it.”

Nalini Elumalai, the Malaysia program officer for freedom of speech advocacy group Article 19, said the action against Al Jazeera is alarming and akin to “shooting the messenger.”

She added: “The government should instead initiate an independent inquiry into the issues raised in the documentary.”

There are at least 2 million migrant workers in Malaysia, though the true number is thought to be much higher as many are undocumented. They are a source of cheap, low-skilled labor in industries considered dirty and dangerous.