The AfD has put a number of candidates into the runoff election for district administrator and mayor positions in Thuringia. But it is unclear whether that is enough.

The AfD did not secure a top office in the district administrator and mayoral elections in Thuringia in its first attempt. The decision will usually be made in runoff elections, in which mainly CDU and AfD candidates compete. In the elections for district councils and city councils, both parties were roughly equal after counting more than half of the voting districts. The elections are seen as the first test of sentiment for the state elections in September. The AfD has been well ahead of the other parties in Thuringia-wide surveys for months. Thuringia is currently governed by a red-red-green coalition with Prime Minister Bodo Ramelow (Left).  

In total, nine of the 13 AfD candidates who took part reached the runoff vote or were close to it according to the last count, according to data from the state returning officer on Sunday. However, the AfD was initially only ahead in the Altenburger Land district in eastern Thuringia. In some cases, their candidates ended up far behind those of the other parties.

The CDU was able to record electoral successes in several cities and thus defend its local strength. In the state capital Erfurt, for example, the CDU man Andreas Horn relegated incumbent Andreas Bausewein (SPD) to second place. Both will now go into the runoff election. In Weimar and Suhl, the CDU candidates achieved clear majorities in the first round of voting and moved into the town halls. In the Weimarer Land district, the CDU candidate missed the absolute majority by 0.2 percentage points.

In several regions, the CDU carried out a generational change. For example, the two longest-serving district administrators in Germany, Werner Henning (Eichsfeld) and Martina Schweinsburg (Greiz), no longer stood for reasons of age. 

The AfD had a hard time in the cities. In Gera, which was the only municipality with an AfD candidate in the runoff election in the 2018 district council and mayoral elections, the party missed the second round after interim results, just as it did in Erfurt and Jena. However, in almost all districts in which she ran with her own candidates, she probably made it to the next round. 

The SPD also recorded some successes in the elections. SPD candidate Peggy Greiser won in Schmalkalden-Meiningen against her only opponent, Ralf Liebaug from the CDU. In three other districts it reached the finish line, sometimes by a significant margin, or was close to it. She is in the runoff election in Erfurt. 

The election results in the southern Thuringian district of Hildburghausen caused a stir. There, the nationally known neo-Nazi Tommy Frenck narrowly made it into the runoff, leaving the CDU candidate Dirk Lindner behind. Sven Gregor, who ran for the Free Voters in the Hildburghausen district and received 42.4 percent of the votes in the first round of voting, is considered to be promising for the executive chair in the district office. 

In the elections for the district councils and city councils of the independent cities in Thuringia, the CDU and AfD were almost on par after an interim result. After counting more than half of the voting districts, the CDU came to 27.6 percent on Sunday evening, the AfD was 27.3 percent. While the AfD improved by almost ten points compared to 2019, the CDU kept its vote share largely stable at this count. The Left, the SPD and the Greens, who form the state government in Thuringia, suffered losses. In the Sonneberg district, where the AfD had its first district administrator in Germany, the party was clearly ahead in the evening. 

Around 1.74 million people in Thuringia were called to vote in large-scale local elections on Sunday: 13 of 17 district administrators were up for election, as well as 5 mayors of the independent cities. In addition, district councils, municipal and city councils, as well as honorary and full-time mayors were elected across the board. Thuringia’s CDU leader Mario Voigt viewed the local elections as a success for the CDU. “The anti-democratic forces have been relegated to their places.” He spoke of very good results and important decisions for the party.

The state chairwoman of the Left, Ulrike Grosse-Röthig, was relieved after the results of the counting that right-wing extremist Björn Höcke’s AfD has no chance of winning a district office or a town hall in an independent city in the first attempt. “Thuringia remains democratic,” she explained. The Left is the governing party in Thuringia, but is only represented sporadically at the level of district administrators and mayors.

According to Grosse-Röthig, the voters “prevented the brown grab for power in the first round of district council and mayoral elections” and voted Democratic candidates forward. 

One day before the election, many people took to the streets across Thuringia in demonstrations for a cosmopolitan Thuringia and against right-wing extremism. According to police reports, up to 2,000 people took part in a rally in Erfurt alone on Saturday. Voter turnout was 46.2 percent by 4 p.m.

In state election surveys, despite losses, the AfD is currently at 30 percent, well ahead of the CDU with around 20 percent and Prime Minister Bodo Ramelow’s Left Party (Linke) with 16 percent. Thuringia has been governed by a red-red-green coalition since 2014, but since 2020 it has no longer had its own majority in the state parliament.