“I think they’re not focusing enough on the long term goals and too much on details and formalities,” said Anni Koch, 24. “We might need to go through another full lockdown, which would be annoying, but maybe necessary.”

Christopher F. Schuetze contributed reporting.

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Election Year in Germany Kicks Off With Voting in Two States

BERLIN — Voters in two southwestern German states are kicking off an election year on Sunday that could change the course of Europe’s largest economy after 16 years under the leadership of Chancellor Angela Merkel, who will be stepping down after a new government is sworn in.

The elections in the states of Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate are the first in a year that will see voting for new legislators in four more states, and for the country’s Parliament, which will be elected in September.

Sunday’s voting is taking place after largely muted election campaigns that were overshadowed by the threat of the coronavirus and by lockdowns. While neither race will serve as a clear bellwether for the fall election, the outcomes could indicate how voters are feeling about the two leading parties, the conservatives and the Greens, and help focus the contest for Ms. Merkel’s replacement.

“It is an unbelievably exciting election year,” said Thorsten Faas, a professor of political science at Berlin’s Free University. “A lot is still open, creating the possibility for movement in various directions.”

Armin Laschet, who took who took over as leader of the Christian Democratic Union in January.

Normally the party would put forward its leader as the candidate in the race for the chancellor, but Mr. Laschet has so far proved to be less popular with the German public than the governor of Bavaria, Markus Söder, who could instead be tapped as the conservative candidate.

Mr. Söder, who is also the head of the Bavaria-only Christian Social Union, has raised his profile as someone who takes tough, decisive action to halt the spread of the pandemic in his state, closing the border to Austria and sending vaccines to help the beleaguered Czech Republic.

Mr. Laschet has said the conservatives will decide in the coming months whether the head of the Christian Democratic Union or the head of the Christian Social Union will run in September as the conservative bloc’s candidate for chancellor. But if the Christian Democrats take a beating in Sunday’s elections, they might decide faster.

Whoever is selected will face the Greens’ candidate, who has yet to be named, and Germany’s finance minister, Olaf Scholz, who is running for the Social Democrats.

Support for the Greens has nearly doubled since the election in 2017, making them the second strongest party heading into the national election, after the conservatives and ahead of the Social Democrats.

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German Court Suspends Right to Surveil Far-Right AfD Party

For years Germany saw itself as immune to the nationalist movements driven by far-right rhetoric that disrupted the democracies in Hungary and Poland, by weakening the judiciary and the independence of the press. Watching the rise of Donald J. Trump in the American presidential race of 2016, many believed their country had been hardened to the lure of unvarnished nationalism and anti-establishment sentiment by the lessons of World War II.

But since winning 12.6 percent support in 2021, the AfD party has brought its anti-establishment stance, denigration of the press and casting Muslim immigrants as criminals to the floor of the German Parliament, where it has served as the largest opposition party.

During that time, the country has also seen a rise in far-right crime, including the killing of a regional politician on his front porch near the central city of Kassel, an attack on a synagogue in the eastern city of Halle and fatal shooting of nine people of immigrant descent in the western city of Hanau.

Increasingly concerned about the party’s positions, the domestic intelligence agency has spent two years scrutinizing the speeches and social media posts of AfD officials for evidence of extremism, including the demeaning of foreigners, questioning of the democratic system and dismissal of the crimes of the Nazis. An assessment amounting to some 1,100 pages concluded that the party’s position violated key principles of liberal democracy, not least Article 1 of the German Constitution, which states that human dignity is unassailable, officials said.

As part of its anti-establishment stance, AfD has also cast itself as the victim of political intrigue, fueled by incidents such as the leak to the press on Wednesday, said Axel Salheiser, who teaches at the Institute for Democracy and Civil Society at the University of Jena.

“This is proof that the checks and balances are functioning,” Mr. Salheiser said. “That is the paradox, they are always positioning the far-right fringe as a result of the system not functioning, but they are always quick to go before the courts, often successfully.”

The outcome of the final ruling could have an impact on how the AfD is viewed as German political parties begin gearing up for a general election on Sept. 26. That vote could see a reshuffling of the government after 16 years under the leadership of Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is not running again.

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