Mayoral election in eastern Germany won by AfD partner

Result in Pirna is the second mayoral victory in six months for the party in the eastern region, and it marks the first time the party has claimed a lord mayor position.

The right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) achieved another electoral triumph when its candidate was elected as the mayor of a town in eastern Germany. This victory represents the party’s second highest municipal position in half a year.

Tim Lochner, an independent candidate who received support from the AfD, secured 38.5% of the vote in the second round of the three-way runoff in Pirna, a Saxon town near Dresden and close to the Czech border.

The 53-year-old non-AfD member, but effectively representing the party, competed against candidates from the center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU), Germany’s leading opposition party, who secured 31.4% of the vote, and the ultra-conservative Free Voters, who garnered 30.1%.

This is the first time that the AfD, which currently enjoys high popularity in national polls, has secured the position of Oberbürgermeister (equivalent to a lord mayor) in towns or cities of significant size. Pirna has a population of approximately 40,000 people.

The party’s initial mayoral victory occurred in August in the municipality of Raguhn-Jessnitz, located in Saxony-Anhalt. In June, Robert Sesselmann became the party’s first head of a district administration when he was elected in the Sonneberg district of Thuringia.

All three positions are situated in former communist states of East Germany, where the AfD has experienced its greatest success. This is largely due to discontent over economic and integration issues, which are widely perceived as a result of unfair treatment towards the region since reunification in 1990.

Alice Weidel, a co-chair of the AfD, referred to this victory as a historic achievement for the party, which was established in 2013.

Last week, the Saxon office for the protection of the constitution, the regional branch of the domestic intelligence agency, designated the AfD in Saxony as “firmly right-wing extremist”. This classification had already been given to the AfD in Thuringia and Saxony-Anhalt by the respective agencies in those states.

The Saxon branch of the Green party posted on X platform, stating, “We find the election of a mayor from a party which was classified as right-wing extremist by the office of the protection of the constitution just last week devastating.”

When asked about the potential challenges of entering the town hall as an AfD mayor following this ruling, Lochner said he did not view it as an obstacle.

Lochner has faced criticism for using the controversial term “Bewölkerungsaustausch” or population exchange, also known as the “Great Exchange”, which is a conspiracy theory shared in right-wing extremist circles. It revolves around the belief that a secret elite is planning to gradually replace the white population in the west with a non-white population.

In response to the question about his use of the term, Lochner stated that he had only used it in his capacity as a “private person”.

Although a member of the AfD faction in the city council, Lochner is not a party member. He previously ran as a mayoral candidate in 2017 but was defeated by the independent incumbent.

The AfD’s victory in Pirna positions the party favorably for state elections in Saxony, Thuringia, and Brandenburg, all of which will take place next September. Political analysts believe that each successive triumph helps the party break down barriers with voters who may have previously been hesitant to support the nationalist, anti-immigrant, and anti-Muslim party. The AfD is well-positioned to emerge as the strongest party in all three states.

Nationally, the AfD has been performing strongly in recent polls, reaching approximately 20% overall and exceeding 30% in certain areas. Voters express dissatisfaction with Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s coalition government, particularly regarding its handling of the economy, migration, and the cost of living crisis.

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