BERLIN (Reuters) - Election officials in a German state have received hate messages and will be given police protection for their meetings after they disqualified some far-right candidates for a vote in September, a regional government spokeswoman said on Tuesday.
The election committee in Saxony last week approved only 18 of the 61 candidates filed by the populist party Alternative for Germany (AfD), citing irregularities in the selection process.
The election committee will in future meet under police protection, the Saxony Interior Ministry spokeswoman said. She declined to go into detail about the hate messages and threats committee members had received.
Carolin Schreck, election committee chairwoman for the eastern state, which has Dresden as its capital, was quoted by German media as saying she and her colleagues had received both negative and positive messages.
Polls show the AfD is tied with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU conservatives in Saxony, which votes on Sept. 1., and could even emerge as the biggest party in the state, an unprecedented feat that would send a shockwave through national politics.
But the decision to disqualify more than two-thirds of the AfD’s list means only the 18 approved candidates can become lawmakers, severely curbing the party’s influence in parliament and making coalition building easier for the CDU.
The decision could also stoke political tensions already running high after the murder in June of a conservative politician, for which a far-right sympathiser has been charged.
The AfD has described the disqualification of its candidates as “despotic”.
It has said the decision was a conspiracy by other parties to prevent it from becoming the largest bloc in the Saxony chamber, and has said it will file a legal challenge against the decision after the election.
The election committee said the AfD approved its list at two separate party meetings, when the law dictates that all candidates must be selected during a single party congress.
The AfD entered Germany’s national parliament for the first time in the 2017 election, helped by voters angry at Merkel’s decision two years earlier to welcome almost 1 million refugees from the Middle East, Afghanistan and Africa.
German parties say the AfD’s verbal attacks against mainly Muslim migrants legitimises a language of hate that encourages far-right sympathisers to resort to violence.
The AfD denies it harbours racist views and says its members have been victims of attacks by far-left groups.
Editing by Alison Williams