AfD fears voters losing patience over latest Russia and China spy ties

Recent investigations linking top AfD members to Beijing and Moscow have rattled the far-right party voting base in the run-up to the European elections in June, causing doubts about their dedication to the patriotic cause — one of their main talking points.

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A series of scandals and spying allegations are jeopardising the election campaign of Germany’s AfD party, despite expectations that it will be crowned as the far right’s driving force in the next European Parliament.

The AfD’s hopes of big gains, driven by its self-projected image of being the only true German patriots, have been all but dashed after the party suffered a series of blows to its legitimacy, including allegations of spying for China.

Last month, an assistant to Maximilian Krah, AfD’s top candidate in the European elections, was arrested on suspicion of spying for Beijing, and the duo’s Parliament offices were searched.

The aide, named as Jian G, was an “employee of a Chinese secret service,” authorities in Berlin said. German media have alleged Krah has personal ties to China as well as Russia.

Meanwhile, Petr Bystron, the second name on the party’s list, is facing an investigation after denying allegations that he may have received money from a pro-Russian network.

Then, AfD’s troubles continued on Wednesday when Krah’s former parliamentary assistant Guillaume Pradoura had his home and offices searched as part of Belgian authorities’ sprawling “Russiagate” probe into MEPs and their aides who were allegedly part of a Kremlin disinformation network in Europe.

The long line of scandals has rattled their voting base, causing doubts about their dedication to the patriotic cause, experts say.

“In this election campaign, a central narrative of the AfD has been shaken, namely that it is the only patriotic force in Germany,” said Johannes Hillje, a Berlin-based political consultant.

“But if it makes propaganda for Russia, if it has a spy from China in its own ranks, then that is anything but patriotic — it is actually a betrayal of its own fatherland in their own words,” he added.

“Therefore, it already has to put up with this accusation as to whether it is actually a force that stands up for Germany or for foreign interests.”

The AfD banned Krah from making campaign appearances after he told an Italian newspaper that “not all members” of the infamous Nazi SS unit, heavily involved in major war crimes during World War II, including the Holocaust, were war criminals.

Preventing Krah from further damaging AfD’s image wasn’t enough to stop the hard-right Identity and Democracy (ID) group in the European Parliament from removing the German party from their bloc.

Other scandals, including party co-leader Bjoern Hoecke’s trial over using a Nazi slogan and massive protests against AfD in February for their involvement in a secret plan to deport tens of thousands, including naturalised German citizens, have further hurt the party’s legitimacy.

But despite all that, AfD party co-leader Alice Weidel is out to convince voters in current AfD election campaigns that they are to the cause — and that the party’s supporters should remain loyal as well.

“We are a patriotic party for our country, we are a patriotic party for Germany,” she shouted at a campaign in Marl last weekend.

Race for wavering voters continues

AfD’s core voters won’t be put off by recent news, but those who are still undecided on who to cast their ballot for could still be swayed away from the far-right party in the wake of these scandals.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen recently argued against voting for AfD, underlining their links to Russia and China.

“We have seen AfD politicians and lead candidates from AfD in Germany in the pockets of Russia,” she said in Copenhagen earlier in May.

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“They are selling their soul on Russian propaganda outlets and videos, a close collaborator of a far right politician was even arrested, accused of spying for China and giving information from the European parliament,” von der Leyen added.

“The aim of all this is to divide our societies from within and it is this deeper impact on society which I’m most concerned about,” she stressed.

The European elections are taking place not only in the context of an economic crisis but also a government crisis. The German executive remains divided and bickering about several issues, including the next budget, and currently holds very poor approval ratings.

“This means that voters could also use the European elections to teach the government a lesson because of their dissatisfaction with the government, to show that they are not happy with the policies at national level,” Hillje says.

“European elections are often used for this purpose, not so much to vote on European issues and positions, but to give the national government a lesson. And that is a likely scenario in this European election in Germany.”

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The AfD still looks set to make gains from the 11% of the vote it took in the 2019 European election, though perhaps not as many as it had hoped for.

Some 60.9 million German citizens are eligible to vote, along with 4.1 million residents from other EU countries who can decide whether to vote in Germany or their country of origin.

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