“Don’t you forget to vote for me?” CDU’er Deftlef Gürth distributes flyers, pens and bottles of water at the weekly market in Aschersleben, East Germany. Every now and then someone comes and talks, often Gürth knows the people by name. That is not surprising, because he has been sitting for the Christian Democrats in the Parliament of Saxony-Anhalt for more than 30 years. He has been politically active here since unification. Gürth is happy that the coronac figures are going well and that he can be among the people again, yet campaigning is difficult for him this year.

For the first time in his career, he is afraid of losing his seat to the competitor of the Alternative für Deutschland. The AfD already got a surprisingly good result in Saxony-Anhalt five years ago and the right-wing populists are again doing well in the polls, they could even become the biggest. According to Gürth, this is also due to the state of his party: “under Merkel, the conservative profile of the CDU has been wiped out. They don’t know what we stand for anymore. A lot of people say to me, ” I don’t recognize the party.””

The CDU, the largest party of Europe’s largest economy, is experiencing an identity crisis. The German Christian Democrats do not know which way to go when Merkel leaves the political stage and the party after more than fifteen years of chancellorship.

The man who wants to take over the helm of Merkel, Kanzlerkandidat Armin Laschet, is caught between two fires. At national level, the Greens are the main competitor. The CDU has made the energy transition and the fight against climate change one of its main priorities. But the party also has to face the challenger on the other side: in the east of the country, the right-wing populist AfD is breathing down the Christian Democrats.

In Saxony-Anhalt, many voters feel that the CDU under Merkel has moved too much to the left. In an attempt to appeal to the right-wing voter, a local CDU politician even suggested that cooperation with the AfD should be possible. Immediately there was intervention from above. He had to leave. Working with the AfD is a taboo in Germany, says CDU party leader Laschet, something that should never happen.

Gürth should not know about his competitor in Aschersleben either: “they are becoming more and more radical.”The AfD in Saxony-Anhalt is known as the extreme right and is being watched by the intelligence service because they are a ‘possible danger to democracy’. “A party that is full of hate, that is of course terrible,” says Gürth. But he is also critical of his own party. “They can only grow if we leave room for that.”

The AfD has also set up an information stand on the market in Aschersleben, right next to that of Gürth. It’s busier than the neighbors. Leader Daniel Rausch clearly enjoys it: “I was a member of the CDU myself once, but in the meantime they have become so left-wing and people here just don’t want that. Those voices are conservative.”The fact that his party is leaning towards the far right, according to intelligence, does not seem to deter voters. Rausch describes the service as a “political instrument”.

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