Germany’s anti-Islam Pegida movement took nearly 10% of the vote in mayoral elections in its eastern stronghold of Dresden on Sunday, a better-than-expected result for a group whose weekly demonstrations have steadily dwindled.
The Guardian reports that in Pegida’s first appearance at the ballot box, candidate Tatjana Festerling came fourth in the city’s polls with 9.6% of the vote.
The only opinion poll published ahead of the election, by the Technical University of Dresden, had predicted she would secure between just 1-2% of votes.
The surprisingly strong showing is likely to be hailed as a success by Pegida, which stands for “Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident” and at its height brought up to 25,000 people onto the streets of Dresden.
The group, founded late last year, has also been weakened in recent months by internal strife and scandal among its leaders, yet it still managed to spur Pegida clones in other cities, while also sparking often far bigger counter-protests.
The best score in Sunday’s first round went to Eva-Maria Stange, the joint candidate for the Social Democrats, Greens and far-left Linke, who took 36%, followed by a candidate from the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) with 31.7%.
The conservative candidate from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU party came third with 15.4% of the vote, spelling yet another loss of a large city for the Christian Democrats.
The election, sparked after the conservative mayor resigned for health reasons, is set to go to a second round run-off on 5 July after no single candidate managed to win an absolute majority.
Figures dating from 2012 show that Dresden, one of Germany’s 15 biggest cities, has the fewest foreigners, at about 7%.
And as a region, Saxony is among the states with the smallest immigrant population at 2.8%.
In her campaign speeches, 51-year-old Festerling called for a “renaissance” of German culture and condemned asylum seekers who have “left family and home because here there’s somewhere nice to live and you get dough from the state”.