Gains but no triumph for a far-right German party in local elections in an eastern state

BERLIN (AP) — The far-right Alternative for Germany made gains but failed to secure outright victories in local elections in an eastern state where the party is strong and its regional leader, one of the party's best-known figures, was recently convicted of knowingly using a Nazi slogan in a speech.

Sunday's elections at county and mayoral level in Thuringia come ahead of a state election on Sept. 1 in which Alternative for Germany's local leader, Björn Höcke, plans to run for the governor’s job.

Official results with about four-fifths of districts counted on Monday showed Alternative for Germany, or AfD, gaining nearly nine points compared with 2019 to take some 26% of the vote across the state in elections for councilors. However, it remained a little behind the center-right Christian Democratic Union, Germany's main national opposition party, whose support was more or less unchanged.

Nine AfD candidates either qualified for runoff votes on June 9 or appeared set to, largely against CDU rivals, though there was only one county where the far-right party enjoyed a small lead going into the runoff vote for head of the local administration.

Thuringia is the state where AfD won its first county leadership post, nearly a year ago.

Observers suspect AfD is likely to lose the runoff votes as mainstream parties' supporters give their votes to its rivals. While it has built a strong core of support, AfD has had a turbulent few weeks, partly a result of scandals surrounding its lead candidate for next month's European Parliament election.

Earlier this month, a court ruled that Höcke, an influential figure on the party's hard right, knowingly used a Nazi slogan in a 2021 speech and ordered him to pay a fine totaling 13,000 euros (about $14,100). His lawyers are appealing.