BERLIN — The decision of a small village council in southwestern Germany to elect a candidate from a neo-Nazi party as its leader has sparked national outrage, with efforts to reverse the decision underway on Tuesday.
Stefan Jagsch, a member of the ultranationalist National Democratic Party (NPD), which German authorities have tried to ban several times, ran unopposed to become leader of the local council in the village of Waldsiedlung in Hesse state.
He was voted in unanimously on Thursday by other council members, including representatives of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and the center-left Social Democratic Party, her coalition partner.
One council member from Merkel’s party told a broadcaster that Jagsch’s ability to send emails was more important than his party affiliation. In the village of just 2,600 residents, other candidates to lead the unelected council, made up of volunteers, had not been forthcoming.
News of the decision quickly flung the village near Frankfurt into the national spotlight, drawing widespread condemnation from regional and national branches of the parties whose local representatives had supported the candidate.
Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, Merkel’s successor as head of the Christian Democrats, said her party would investigate how members had backed Jagsch and called for a reversal.
“We learned about this decision one day after the election with horror and absolute incomprehension,” the district-level office of the Christian Democrats said in a statement. “We are decisively disassociating ourselves from this decision,” it said.
“We do not cooperate with Nazis! Never!” tweeted Lars Klingbeil, secretary general of the Social Democrats.
Jagsch, who also is deputy chairman of the NPD in Hesse, has vowed to fight efforts to oust him.
The NPD has survived efforts to ban it. The last effort, in 2017, was thrown out by Germany’s highest court, which said the party was too small to pose a threat to democracy.
In recent years, the neo-Nazi party has been eclipsed by the far-right Alternative for Germany, which has more widespread appeal with the fringe right.
Lucia Puttrich, the regional head of the Christian Democrats, who has been spearheading efforts to reverse the decision, said eight of the nine local council members, everyone except Jagsch, had agreed to reverse the decision as of Tuesday, a move that requires a two-thirds majority.
But some have defended their decision.
“We are trying to help the people and address their issues, that’s all,” Norbert Szilakso, a Christian Democrat council member, told broadcaster Deutsche Welle. “Party membership doesn’t play a role for us.”
Szilakso told local news outlet Hessenschau that Jagsch was “collegial and calm” and that what he does in private or his party affiliation was not a concern. His computer skills were what mattered.
“They voted for him because they know him personally, but they weren’t aware that it’s a political ‘no go,’ ” Puttich said, adding that there had been “uproar” among local residents. “He’s a wolf in sheep’s skin. He seems friendly, but they didn’t understand the political significance.”