German Far-Right Party on Course for Second Place in Local Votes

(Bloomberg) -- The far-right Alternative for Germany is on course to finish second in municipal elections in the eastern German region of Thuringia, narrowly behind the conservative Christian Democrats.

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The vote is being closely watched as an indicator of the anti-immigrant party’s momentum. The AfD has a big lead in polls for the Thuringia state election in September, one of three in former communist East Germany where its support is about twice as strong as in nationwide surveys.

With about 80% of the votes counted from Sunday’s local- and city-council ballots, the AfD was on 26.4%, up about nine percentage points from the last election in 2019, according to preliminary results. The CDU was roughly steady at 27.5%.

Most of the separate ballots for mayors and district administrators will need to go to a runoff on June 9, with either the CDU or the AfD ahead in many of those.

The three parties in Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s ruling coalition all lost ground as expected. Scholz’s Social Democrats were in third place on 11%, down about two points, the Greens lost almost four points to 3.8% and backing for the Free Democrats declined about two points to 2.7%.

The initial results in Thuringia suggest support for the AfD is holding up relatively well in the east despite a string of recent scandals that have dented its polling numbers on a national basis.

The party was expelled last week from the Identity and Democracy Group in the European Parliament over controversial comments by Maximilian Krah. The AfD’s lead candidate in next month’s EU elections had been quoted by Italian newspaper la Repubblica as saying that not all members of the Nazi SS paramilitary organization were criminals.

Read More: Why Eyes Are on the Far Right in European Elections: QuickTake

He was already under pressure after an aide was detained last month suspected of spying for China. He stepped down from the AfD leadership committee and said he won’t take part in any more campaign events before the June 6-9 vote.

Backing for the AfD fell by two percentage points to 14% in a monthly Allensbach poll for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung published Friday, after rising as high as 19.5% in January.

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