A 51-year-old immigrant has been elected mayor of a town in eastern Germany after beating a candidate from the far-right Alternative for Germany party in a runoff that drew international attention.
The dpa news agency reported that Octavian Ursu, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party who came to Germany from Romania in 1990, received 55.1 percent of the vote in Sunday’s election in Goerlitz. Preliminary returns showed opponent Sebastian Wippel received 44.9%.
Actors, directors and others who made films on location in Goerlitz had called on residents to vote against the Alternative for Germany candidate. “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “Inglourious Basterds” are among the movies shot there.
They signed a letter saying: “Don’t succumb to hate and enmity, discord and exclusion.
AfD condemned the letter as unwelcome outside advice.
Wippel had won the first round three weeks ago with 36.4% against Ursu’s 30.3%.
However, Ursu had since attracted the support of the two smaller parties that were out of the race — one of them the Greens, which came third with 27.9% last time.
The CDU’s Saxony state premier, Michael Kretschmer, who hails from Goerlitz, had urged voters to reject the AfD, arguing that “many people underestimate how radical the party is.”
The contest for Goerlitz’s city hall was seen as a litmus test for three upcoming state elections in the ex-communist east, with the future of Merkel’s fragile right-left coalition potentially on the line.
The AfD made strong gains in Goerlitz’s economically struggling Saxony state in May’s European elections and hopes to beat Merkel’s CDU party in the upcoming regional poll.
The AfD’s parliamentary group leader in Berlin, Alice Weidel, said the neck-and-neck result in Goerlitz in the face of strong opposition marked an “enormous success” for her party.
“He nearly managed to become the first AfD mayor: Sebastian Wippel won an unbelievable 44.9 percent of the vote — it could hardly have been closer,” she tweeted.
With a population of 55,000, Goerlitz on the Polish border boasts a quaint historic town center that has turned the town into a tourist magnet and attracted top Hollywood directors.