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East Germany's Görlitz votes in CDU mayor

June 16, 2019

Germany's populist AfD party lost a key mayoral race in Görlitz, where all mainstream parties united behind a Romanian-born CDU candidate Octavian Ursu. AfD's Sebastian Wippel said his own result was still "great."

Octavian Ursu
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/S. Kahnert

CDU's Octavian Ursu (pictured) scored an important victory in the east German town of Görlitz, winning over 55% of the vote in the race for the town's mayor and outpacing his rival from the populist AfD party by over 10%.

The contest was seen as a key test for Germany's AfD. The far-right party's candidate, Sebastian Wippel, won the first round of the race last month, igniting hopes that the party could win its first mayoral post in Germany. In response, all mainstream parties threw their weight behind the Romanian-born Ursu.

After the preliminary results were published on Sunday evening, Ursu said that the majority of voters "decided in favor of an open society and against isolation."

"I'm happy," the 51-year-old classical musician said. "Now we have to see about getting closer to those who didn't vote for me."

Former police superintendent Wippel said his own result of nearly 45% was "great" and respectable "considering that all other parties mobilized their forces against us."

The national head of the CDU, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, congratulated Ursu on Twitter, writing: "Octavian Ursu's victory is a victory of a broad alliance for which I am grateful."

The co-chief of the Greens, Annalena Baerbock, also welcomed Usru's win, writing on Twitter that her party's candidates had shown "how important it is for democrats to stand together in decisive moments despite all of their differences."

Local media reported voter turnout was 56%. Ursu won 14,043 votes to Wippel's 11,390, according to electoral official Cornelia Herbst.

Four for the first round

In the first round of voting on May 26, Wippel topped the ballot with 36.4% but fell just short of an absolute majority. Ursu trailed him by only six points, winning 30.3% of the vote.

Two other candidates — Franziska Schubert of the Greens, who won 27.9%, and Jana Lübeck of the Left party, with 5.5% — dropped out of the race.

Though Wippel's campaign for mayor has focused largely on local issues, his political motto extended to all of Germany: "A decision is right if it's good for the German nation." His candidate profile counts "obsession with minorities" as a cause of social failure.

Octavian Ursu and his wife vote at a polling station in Görlitz.
Octavian Ursu and his wife vote at a polling station in GörlitzImage: picture-alliance/dpa/S. Kahnert

AfD canary in the coalmine for former East Germany

The municipal election was being observed as a bellwether to see how well the messages of the far-right AfD resonate with states in the former East Germany.

In September, there are state elections in Saxony, where Görlitz is located, and in Brandenburg, where the AfD is currently polling as the strongest party.

Elections in another eastern state, Thuringia, are to be held on October 27.

Mayoral election in Görlitz

The anti-immigration AfD party made strong gains in the region in the European Parliament elections last month, emerging as the strongest party in Germany's formerly communist east. The AfD is currently represented in Germany's federal parliament and every state legislature.

Filmmakers urge Görliwood, 'Do not give up'

The town's next mayor, Ursu, came  to Görlitz in 1990 and started a family in the east German city. 

Görlitz is located at the Polish border and is Germany's easternmost city. The picturesque medieval town of 57,000 is favored by Hollywood and has served as a location for more than 100 films, including The Grand Budapest Hotel, Inglourious Basterds, and The Reader.

In an open letter published online, filmmakers, actors, authors and activists called on residents of 'Görliwood,' as the town is known in Germany, to reject political extremism at the ballot box. "Do not give in to hate, hostility, strife and marginalization," the letter reads, although it avoids explicitly mentioning either the AfD or any other party or candidate. "Do not give up when things go wrong."

Though the city attracts 300,000 tourists annually, it suffers from a brain drain of its young residents who have left due to a dearth of opportunities, as well as from high unemployment — double the national unemployment rate at 3.4%. These issues are reflected across eastern Germany.

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dj,mc/amp (dpa, AFP)