The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party has lost its first mayoral contest, handing embattled Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) a solid victory.
In the small eastern town of Görlitz, near the border with Poland, Octavian Ursu, a 51-year-old Romanian immigrant and classical musician, easily won Sunday’s runoff vote against AfD’s Sebastian Wippel, 36, who stood on an anti-immigrant platform.
Ursu won by 55.1% to Wippel’s 44.9%, according to The Associated Press. Görlitz lies in the heart of a region in eastern Germany seen as a stronghold of support for the far-right party.
In the first round of voting on May 26, Wippel won 36.4% to Ursu’s 30.3%.
The election has been closely watched as a possible bellwether for Sept. 1 German state elections in Saxony, where Görlitz is located, and neighboring Brandenburg. Despite Sunday’s outcome in Görlitz, AfD remains neck-and-neck with the CDU in Saxony and the party is polling ahead of the CDU’s ally, the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), in the state of Brandenburg.
Elections in Thuringia, another eastern state, are to be held in late October.
Wippel was quoted by Reuters as saying Sunday’s loss was “not a vote for Mr. Ursu but more … against me.”
“The CDU had to rely on support from many groups including from the far-left extremists without whom they would not have made it,” he said, predicting that the AfD was still in “a good position” to win in Saxony in September.
A victorious Ursu said Görlitz, a town of just 56,000 that is known for the Hollywood movies shot there, such as The Grand Budapest Hotel and Inglourious Basterds, had refused to give in to his opponent’s nativist message.
“[I]t is not about two candidates but the orientation of this town to the outside world and that we remain an open society and do not isolate ourselves,” Ursu was quoted by Reuters as saying.
In an open letter published ahead of the election, German and international actors, directors and producers urged the town’s residents not to “give in to hate, hostility strife and marginalization.”