German chancellor Angela Merkel has said it is “unforgivable” that politicians from her centre-right party voted with the far-right Alternative für Deutschland to remove the eastern state of Thuringia’s leftwing premier and that the outcome “has to be reverted”.
The little-known Free Democrat (FDP) politician Thomas Kemmerich was voted in on Wednesday as the state’s new premier thanks to support not just from Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union but also the aggressively nationalistic AfD, thus breaking a post-war consensus among established parties of shunning the far right.
Outgoing state premier Bodo Ramelow from the leftwing Die Linke party had emerged as the candidate with the strongest support in last October’s elections and had been widely expected to be sworn in to form a minority government in the third round of voting.
Instead it was Kemmerich, whose party had barely sneaked into parliament on 5% of the vote, who won the secret ballot by a single vote.
In a tweet sent on Wednesday afternoon, Ramelow drew attention to the fact that it was in Thuringia that Adolf Hitler’s Nazi party had first entered the German parliament 90 years ago, almost to the week.
“Den größten Erfolg erzielten wir in Thüringen. Dort sind wir heute wirklich die ausschlaggebende Partei.[…] Die Parteien in Thüringen, die bisher die Regierung bildeten, vermögen ohne unsere Mitwirkung keine Majorität aufzubringen.”
A. HitIer, 02.02.1930 pic.twitter.com/icDXFSKzC7
The AfD’s branch in Thuringia is dominated by the party’s aggressively nationalist wing. Last September, a court ruled that the AfD’s state leader, Björn Höcke, could legally be termed a fascist, saying such a designation “rests on verifiable fact”.
Speaking during a state visit to South Africa, Merkel described the circumstances of Kemmerich’s election as “a singular process that broke with a fundamental conviction of mine and my party’s, namely that you don’t win majorities with the help of Alternative für Deutschland.”
The FDP’s national leader, Christian Lindner, travelled to Thuringia’s state capital Erfurt on Thursday, with some German media reporting that he would try to convince Kemmerich to resign less than 24 hours after accepting his mandate.
On Wednesday afternoon, Lindner insisted that the new Thuringia premier was “the candidate of the centre” and rejected accusations the vote had been pre-arranged with the far right, saying he had been surprised by the outcome.
But reports since have questioned the FDP leader’s version of events. CDU leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said she had explicitly warned Lindner that the AfD could use his candidate as a vehicle to gain political influence.
The AfD had fielded their own candidate in the anonymous third round of voting – without lending him any of their votes, however.
German-owned news website Business Insider cited anonymous party insiders who said Lindner had given the green light for Kemmerich to accept his mandate in the event of a surprise victory.
Merkel too appeared to criticise the FDP, a right-leaning pro-business party with liberal roots that used to be a natural junior coalition partner for the Christian Democrats.
Kemmerich gaining a majority only with the help of the far right, Merkel said in South Africa, had been predictable. “Therefore it has to be said that this process is unforgivable and the result has to be reverted”.
Leading members of Germany’s “grand coalition” – forged between Merkel’s conservatives and the SPD in 2018 – are due to meet at the weekend to discuss the situation.