German anti-Islam movement Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West (Pegida) gained almost 10 percent of the vote in a local election in the east German stronghold of Dresden on Sunday.
The local mayoral election came early as the governing Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU) party’s Helma Orosz - who was elected as a mayor in June 22, 2008 - had to resign for health reasons.
Although an opinion poll published by the Technical University of Dresden predicted the anti-Islam movement would secure between 1-2 percent of the votes, Tatjana Festerling - a Pegida candidate - made a gain of 9.6 percent in the local polls.
Pegida, an anti-Islam and anti-immigration group established late last year, is seen as a racist and borderline fascist group by many in Europe and had drawn criticism from significant political figures, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
During her campaign speeches Festerling emphasised her stance against migrants by criticising asylum seekers who have “left family and home because here there’s somewhere nice to live and you get dough from the state.”
The German based Pegida movement has gained supporters from many other countries including Sweden, the United Kingdom, France and Austria as its calls for more restrictive immigration rules - particularly targeting Muslims - during its regular rallies.
Despite Pegida’s surprise gain in Dresden’s mayoral election, the joint candidate for the Social Democrats, Greens and far-left Die Linke - Eva-Maria Strange - came first with 36 percent of the vote and was followed by a candidate from the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP), who won 31.7 percent.
A candidate from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU party was third in line, winning a total of 15.4 percent of the vote.
On July 5 there will be a second round of mayoral elections, as no individual candidate managed to gain a majority.