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Local elections: AfD gains ground in Thuringia, neo-Nazis in runoff

Local elections: AfD gains ground in Thuringia, neo-Nazis in runoff

The super election year 2024 has begun with the votes in Thuringia’s municipalities. The results are not a triumph for the AfD – but a warning. Even a neo-Nazi made it to the runoff.

Thuringia has voted – and the outcome was more or less as the polls had suggested. The AfD is in the runoff election in several districts: in the Kyffhäuser district and in the Gotha district against the SPD, in the Altenburg, Sömmerda, Saale-Holzland, Eichsfeld, Greiz and Wartburg districts against the CDU.

In some district councils and city councils, the AfD is likely to be the strongest force in the future. This was indicated by the results on Sunday evening, with the counting continuing into the night and in some places even expected to last until Monday.

At the same time, the “blue wave” that the AfD had predicted for itself was not quite as big as it had hoped. The party was unable to celebrate a victory in the first round in any of the personnel elections. The CDU was once again clearly ahead in the overall result and defended its mayors in Suhl, Altenburg and Weimar in the first round.

This was also due to the fact that the AfD did not put forward its own candidates in some regions and cities. In addition, there were some weak candidates – and internal disputes. In the Saalfeld-Rudolstadt district, for example, the party ran with two competing lists.

The bottom line, however, is that the AfD is once again making strong gains and on Sunday once again confirmed the findings of many studies: in rural East Germany, some of its supporters are voting for it not despite, but because of, its particularly radical orientation.

Scandals seem to have been largely irrelevant to AfD voters in the local elections

After all, the AfD in Thuringia has never tried to be moderate. Three years ago, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution classified it as the first state party to be classified as “certainly right-wing extremist”. Its long-time leader Björn Höcke was recently sentenced by the Halle Regional Court for chanting a Nazi slogan.

Even less important for many AfD voters in Thuringia are the scandals involving the EU top candidates Maximilian Krah and Petr Bystron. The reporting and the outrage of the political rivals may even have strengthened the AfD’s victim narrative.

Either way, the filling of most district administrator positions will only be decided in the second round on June 9th – and Thuringia has probably gained some experience recently. Will most votes end like they did a year ago in the Sonneberg district, when the AfD candidate Robert Sesselmann narrowly won the runoff election? Or will they end more like in January, when the Christian Democrat Christian Herrgott defeated the AfD candidate with the support of the SPD and the Left Party?

An important factor is that the runoff elections – like the local elections in eight other federal states – are taking place at the same time as the European elections. This should increase voter turnout, which in turn usually benefits the established parties. In addition, in many districts the AfD is only in second place in the final vote.

A shock in Hildburghausen

But despite the increased number of votes, June 9 will only be the prelude to the political climax of Germany’s super election year: the state elections in Saxony, Thuringia and Brandenburg. In all three states, the AfD is currently leading the polls.

Even if an absolute majority is considered extremely unlikely, it could achieve a blocking minority. If it holds more than a third of the seats in the state parliament, it could block constitutional changes, judicial elections or the dissolution of parliament.

Things are likely to be particularly exciting again in Thuringia, the state with the only Left Party prime minister and the only minority government. At the latest since the state elections in 2019, which led to unprecedented majorities and ultimately to the election of FDP prime minister Thomas Kemmerich with votes from the AfD, Thuringia has become a political testing ground. A lot of things in Berlin depend on the votes here this year – for example, the candidacy for chancellor of CDU chairman Friedrich Merz. How confidently he and the federal CDU handle the difficult state association after the state elections is likely to be important for the question of whether he leads the Union as number one in the federal election campaign.

That’s why half of the country was once again looking to Thuringia on Sunday, even though only about half of the 1.74 million eligible voters voted there. And it wasn’t just about the bigger trends, but also about the details.

There was a shock in Hildburghausen that is likely to cause discussions nationwide: Here, the well-known neo-Nazi Tommy Frenck made it to the runoff election for the post of district administrator. He narrowly made it, probably because the AfD did not run. According to preliminary figures, around 25 percent of voters voted for him.

Source: Stern

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