The German far right suffered an electoral setback on Sunday January 28 in the wake of demonstrations on an unprecedented scale in the country against its program, although it had seemed for months to be on an unstoppable upward momentum.

The Alternative for Germany (AfD) party lost its bet to win a second cantonal presidency, during local elections in the Saale-Orla district, in the east German region of Thuringia. Its candidate, Uwe Thrume, received only 47.6% of the vote in the second round of voting on Sunday, improving his first round score by just 1.9 points, while his conservative rival enjoyed a strong vote carryover to finish at 52.4%. The defeat of the AfD, which started as the favorite, was achieved “thanks to the mobilization of civil society”, estimated the number two in the Thuringia region, the social democrat Georg Maier.

This election was a test at a time when large-scale demonstrations have been taking place for around two weeks against this party and its program deemed racist by its detractors. More than 800,000 people took to the streets throughout the weekend, notably in Hamburg and Düsseldorf, to denounce the AfD and the dangers to democracy that they believe it represents, organizers said on Sunday. Last weekend, the number of participants was estimated at 1.4 million by organizers.

This mobilization of civil society was triggered by press revelations which created an earthquake in Germany: members of the AfD, an anti-migrant and anti-system party, discussed a mass expulsion plan at the end of last year of the country of foreigners and “unassimilated citizens.”

“The evil genie is out of the bottle.”

A poll by the INSA institute carried out in the wake of the first demonstrations recently reported a decline in voting intentions for the AfD to 21.5% compared to 23% previously. The demonstrations “are having an effect,” said the director of the institute, Hermann Binkert, in the daily Bild.

The fact remains that the Afd remains the second most popular party in Germany in the polls behind the conservative opposition to the social democratic chancellor, Olaf Scholz. It is driven by the increase in immigration and the record unpopularity of the government coalition in power. According to the daily FAZ, between 130 and 150 new members join the far-right party every day, whose number of activists could increase from 40,000 to 60,000 members by the end of the year.

“We must face the facts: the evil genie is out of the bottle,” lamented this week to the daily Die Zeit, Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who until now had rather sought to minimize the rise of left. The AfD is “a danger for democracy”, and its arrival at the responsibilities “would ruin Germany economically”, also warned on Sunday, the liberal Minister of Finance, Christian Lindner.

The economic world is also warning of the risks linked to the advancement of the AfD’s theses, emphasizing its need for foreign labor and international trade. The party recently said it wanted a referendum to leave the European Union.

“Only if people feel good with us will they come and only then will we be sustainably attractive,” said Peter Adrian, President of the German Chamber of Commerce and Industry DIHK .

In this context, more and more voices are calling for cutting public funds to the AfD, especially as the party is in the crosshairs of the intelligence services. Its regional branches in Thuringia and Saxony-Anhalt were placed under surveillance because of their positions considered very radical.