Germany’s far-right AfD won its first district election on Sunday, a further boost for the anti-immigration party as it surged to record highs in opinion polls.
Robert Sesselmann, a lawyer and legislator in the region, led a well-guarded vote for the district administrator of Sonneberg in the central state of Thuringia, near the border with Bavaria.
Sesselmann took 52.8 percent of the vote, according to the election office.
The victory came despite appeals from mainstream parties for voters to rally behind the incumbent candidate, Joergen Koepper from the conservative CDU.
With only 57,000 people, Sonneberg is one of Germany’s smaller districts, but the stunning victory made it the first run by the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.
“Robert Stuhlmann has made history,” tweeted AfD co-chief Alice Weidel.
The milestone comes as recent surveys put support for the AfD at a record 18 to 20 percent, neck-and-neck with Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democrats and just behind the conservative CDU/CSU bloc.
The AfD is polling better in the former communist East German states of Thuringia, Brandenburg and Saxony, which will see regional elections next year where the AfD hopes to score major gains.
Germany’s top-selling Bild newspaper called Sesselmann’s victory a political “earthquake” and “an extraordinary success for the ultra-right party”.
Thuringia’s interior minister Georg Maier, from the Social Democrats, called the result “an alarm bell for all democratic forces”, according to Bild.
The regional leader of the AfD party in Thuringia is far-right firebrand Bjoern Hoecke, whose past statements on Germany’s Nazi past have caused outrage.
Hoecke, considered an extremist by German intelligence services, called Berlin’s Holocaust monument a “memorial of shame” and urged a “180-degree shift” in the country’s memorial culture.
Created in 2013 as an anti-euro outfit before becoming an anti-Islam, anti-immigration party, the AfD has benefited from growing discontent in Scholz’s three-party coalition amid concerns about inflation and the affordability of the plans. in the government climate.
High immigration also remains a key concern among voters.
The AfD shocked the political establishment when it won about 13 percent of the vote in the 2017 general election, bringing its lawmakers into the German parliament.
It drops to nearly 10 percent in the 2021 federal election.
In Germany, where coalition governments are the norm, the main parties often refrain from forming an alliance with the AfD.