At the end of June, Robert Stuhlmann was elected the first AfD district administrator in the Thuringian district of Sonneberg. A week later, AfD candidate Hannes Loth became full-time mayor in Raguhn-Jeßnitz in Saxony-Anhalt.

Both local politicians will be sworn in today. For the AfD, classified by the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution as a suspected right-wing extremist, this is an important success. She is getting closer to her goal of anchoring herself in the surface. She puts the other parties under pressure: cooperation or not?

Own chancellor candidacy planned

The AfD has been triumphing nationwide since it drew level with the SPD chancellor party in polls at the beginning of June. The right-wing party could get between 19 and 21 percent if there were a federal election now – twice as much as its election result in autumn 2021 (10.3 percent). “Ready for more” she wrote at the end of July about her European party conference in Magdeburg and formulated government responsibility as a goal. She is planning her own candidacy for Chancellor in the next federal election. The municipal offices are only a stage for the party.

“It’s about shaping the policy change for the future at state and federal level, and that’s the beginning here,” said Stuhlmann before his election to ARD. Thuringia’s AfD head of state, Björn Höcke, then spoke of “political lightning” in Sonneberg on the evening of the election. They want to take this momentum with them for the upcoming district elections and then create “a political earthquake” in the state elections in the east. In 2024, the state parliaments in Thuringia, Saxony and Brandenburg will be re-elected.

“Everything that goes with being mayor”

The AfD local politicians are not putting such ambitions in the shop window at the moment. change of office? Everything is completely normal, said Hannes Loth, the new mayor in Raguhn-Jeßnitz, the German Press Agency. “Then I sit in the town hall and can attend appointments – everything that goes with being mayor.” Order, security, the fire brigade and daycare places are among the things that are close to his heart. What will the AfD do better than the other parties? “That we are more close to the citizens,” said Loth.

The AfD adopted the image of the “Kümmerer-Party” from the left, especially in East Germany. Since its founding in 2013, the party has brought together hundreds of local politicians. According to a study by the Moses Mendelssohn Center in Potsdam, it is pursuing strategic goals: “Local politics, which are based on practical issues and constructive cooperation, appear to be a suitable area for the desired normalization of the AfD,” the scientists write. “The AfD believes that it has the potential to establish itself as a ‘people’s party’ by anchoring itself locally through local political activities.”

Critics worried about the normalization of the party

This normalization of a party with possibly anti-constitutional tendencies – in Thuringia, the constitutional protection classifies the AfD as “safe right-wing extremist” – is the main concern of critics. “The real design options of a district administrator in a district with 54,000 inhabitants are limited, but this election victory gives the AfD a central position for attacking state and federal politics,” said political scientist Matthias Quent after Stuhlmann’s election. This could possibly be “the starting point for normalizing and legitimizing cooperation between AfD and CDU”.

The CDU has been arguing and arguing since its chairman Friedrich Merz made misleading statements about any cooperation with the AfD at the local level. Actually, the CDU has a “fire wall” to the right-wing party. In everyday life in district and city parliaments, however, votes are taken together here and there. The Saxon CDU politician Matthias Grahl told the “Zeit” about the AfD and the situation in the Bautzen district council: “I don’t forge any alliances with her, nor do I bring any joint applications to the district council with her. But if common sense tells me says that a motion by this party is correct in terms of content – why should I then vote against it in the district council?”

“Let’s show what we’ve got”

The new Sonneberger District Administrator Stuhlmann even makes it a kind of obligation for the other parties. “It’s not about symbolism or firewalls,” Stuhlmann warned on election night. “Should a blocking attitude be built up against the AfD, then the district would suffer.” If the other parties could be blamed for the standstill, that would certainly suit the AfD. Helping the new district administrator to succeed puts the CDU, SPD, FDP or Greens in a quandary. According to Stuhlmann, the AfD wants to “show what we’re made of” in the top municipal office.

how to deal with it The helplessness can be felt at all levels, including the federal government. Treating the AfD like a normal party would normalize its extreme positions, some warn. The others argue that clear demarcation obviously leads to it becoming stronger and stronger. Ten years after the founding of the AfD, the dilemma has not been resolved. Some still hope that the AfD will disenchant itself in government responsibility, first at the local level.