Germany Votes 2017

'I am afraid': First far-right party set to enter German parliament in over half a century

Main candidates for the federal elections of right-wing Alternative fuer Deutschland (Alternative for Germany, AfD) party Alice Weidel (C-L) and Alexander Gauland (C-R) arrive to a press conference about immigration and Islam on September 18, 2017 in Berlin.
Emmanuele Contini | NurPhoto | Getty Images

Angela Merkel looks all but certain to take a fourth term in office as chancellor of Germany following an election on Sunday but many Germans are worried that a nationalist, ring-wing party could also gain a lot of votes.

Only founded in 2013, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party is currently polling in third place and is expected to gain enough votes to enter the national Bundestag for the first time. If so, it will be the first nationalist, right-wing party to enter the German parliament since World War II.

Campaigning on an anti-immigrant, anti-euro stance, the AfD has become something of a protest party in Germany, mopping up voters on both sides of the political spectrum who feel disenfranchised and disaffected by Merkel's policies over recent years.

While left-wing parties like the Social Democratic Party (SDP) have seen some of their traditional voter base (working-class voters from more industrial parts of the country) go towards the AfD, so too has Merkel's conservative alliance of the Christian Democrats (CDU) and Christian Social Union (CSU) with some voters finding her liberal immigration policy hard to swallow.

In particular, Merkel's decision in 2015 to allow over 1 million refugees, mainly coming from the Middle East, to enter the country during Europe's migrant crisis did not go down well with many voters. In addition, many Germans have resented what they feel is their country's propping-up of the euro zone following bailouts of countries like Greece, Portugal, and Ireland.

How do German elections work?
How do German elections work?

Currently, polls show the AfD is in third place with a projected 11 percent of the vote. Although this is far behind the expected vote share for Merkel's CDU-CSU, seen at 36 percent, the polls show a rise in support for the AfD and a decline in support for other traditional parties.
While all other parties have ruled out allowing the AfD into any governing coalition, winning seats in the Bundestag (the party already has seats in 13 out of 16 state parliaments) will give the party even more of a national platform.

Courting controversy

The party's leader is Frauke Petry - a politician who has called for minarets to be banned and has argued that German police should "use firearms if necessary" to stop illegal border crossings -- and economist Jörg Meuthen. But the popular faces of the AfD are its top candidates Alexander Gauland and Alice Weidel, the former a defector from the CDU party and the latter, an economist who lives with her female partner and children, despite the party promoting a "traditional family" ethos. Both are viewed as right-wing nationalists.

We want a Europe of nations, not a super state: AfD co-leader
We want a Europe of nations, not a super state: AfD co-leader

Weidel has been under the spotlight in recent weeks, however, after it emerged she had illegally employed a Syrian refugee as a cleaner. Weidel has denied that the asylum seeker worked as an employee or received a salary. In addition, an email surfaced from 2013 in which she appeared to show her using terms with Nazi-era connotations including "Überfremdung," which roughly translates to "foreign infiltration" according to a Deutsche Welle report. Weidel's lawyers have since claimed that she was not the email's author.

Despite the controversy, for many voters, the AfD's call to arms (mainly its calls to leave the euro zone and an anti-Islamic standpoint) have resonated and are a legitimate opposition to what they see as the German government's embracing of multiculturalism.

Like other populist movements such as UKIP in the U.K. or the Front National in France, the AfD has built its political manifesto on traditional values and appeals to voters with a nostalgic view of the country. Its key election themes have been anti-immigration, promoting family values, internal security, leaving the euro and promoting German culture.

While its website features pictures of German towns and cities with the slogan: "It's about us, our culture, our home, our Germany," the party has used more explicit and controversial slogans and posters too, including those proclaiming "Get your country back!" Others have called for "bikinis instead of burkas" referring to the full-body covering some Muslim's wear, and "Islam does not fit our kitchen" on a poster depicting a piglet, referring to Islam's dietary prohibition of pork.

Emmanuele Contini/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Other posters show groups of silhouetted migrants with the slogan "The Germans will not finance a better life for you." Another shows a pregnant woman with the slogan "New Germans? We'll make them ourselves."

'I am afraid of them winning so many votes'

On the flip side, many liberal-minded Germans are worried by the prospect of the AfD gaining prominence — and the AfD's nationalist rhetoric that is reminiscent of the Nazi era.

"I am afraid of them winning so many votes, it is a shame for Germany. People not taking the atrocities of the Hitler regime seriously should be banned from the political scene," Thomas Meier from Berlin told CNBC on Thursday afternoon.

Another Berlin citizen, Arndt Winter, told CNBC that he can understand why people vote for them.

"There are many people living on subsidies not finding jobs and now the refugees also want jobs. I am afraid," he told CNBC.

Meanwhile, Denis Maeder, who also lives in Berlin, told CNBC via email that he will "definitely vote" at this election due to his fears of the AfD.

"I feel it really matters now ... my worry isn't so much the (AfD) party (the political organization), but rather the social and political climate which produces it."

The AfD is here to stay because it gives meaning to Germans who feel lost in a modern Western society which they see as perilous, weak, decadent and in decline, Maeder added.

Citizens not willing to trust establishment: AfD’s Pazderski
Citizens not willing to trust establishment: AfD’s Pazderski

Temporary phenomena?

One thing that might reassure Germans worried about the rise of the AfD is that other populist parties in Europe have tended not to do so well when it actually comes to election day. Carsten Brzeski, chief economist of Germany and Austria at ING Research, said in a note on Thursday that it was wrong to discount the AfD.

"Remember that in the first half of 2017, markets were constantly talking about the populist threat in the euro zone. After the Dutch and French elections, this threat seems to have disappeared. No one seems to have an eye on the AfD," he said.

"If the AfD manages to come in as third largest party, it could not only be the official opposition leader (in case of another CDU/SPD coalition) with special rights in the German parliament but would also show even Germany is not immune against right-wing populism," Brzeski noted.

Germany's more centrist politicians are certainly perturbed by the rise of the right in the country. Michael Meister, Germany's deputy finance minister, told CNBC on Thursday that he hoped it will be a "temporary phenomena."

"This party is strictly against European unification and that brings us peace and freedom (and has done) for seven decades and I hope that we will keep this for the future."

—Additional reporting by CNBC's Annette Weisbach.