The political mayhem stems from the election in eastern Germany’s Thuringia region last October, when the Alternative for Germany party (AfD) more than doubled its support and came in second after the ruling Left Party. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), on the other hand, was left red-faced, losing 13 seats in regional parliament and finishing third.
After months of arguments, the Left, Social Democrats (SPD) and the Greens agreed to form a minority government, expecting to easily re-elect the Left’s incumbent Bodo Ramelow as Thuringia’s minister president. Their plans were unexpectedly halted on Wednesday when the AfD sided with the CDU and pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP) to narrowly outvote Ramelow’s candidacy and elect FDP’s Thomas Kemmerich instead.
The move instantaneously sent shockwaves across Germany, creating a rift between Thuringia’s CDU branch and its leadership in Berlin. CDU’s chief and Federal Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer accused her colleagues of breaking rank by violating the party’s usual policy of avoiding any cooperation with the anti-establishment and anti-migrant AfD.
The Thuringian CDU members have “explicitly acted against the recommendations, demands and requests of the party,” Kramp-Karrenbauer said.
The upset was exacerbated by the fact the FDP has the smallest faction in the region’s parliament after it barely passed the five percent threshold required to gain any seats. Kemmerich “does not have the majority in parliament,” the CDU chief said, and working with his cabinet will have “consequences” for the local Christian Democrats. She even suggested a new vote in Thuringia.
Merkel also slammed the election of Kemmerich as “unforgivable,” saying that the vote’s “results must be reversed.”
Despite getting to his position with the help of AfD, Kemmerich ruled out working with the party – but he also rejected calls to resign, including those coming from within his own ranks. He said that a new election is “not an option.”
The Left and antifa groups, meanwhile, staged protest rallies outside the parliament building in Thuringia’s capital Erfurt and the local FDP party headquarters. More rallies followed in other cities across the country, including Berlin.
The fact that the CDU and AfD have ended up voting together “poses a great danger to the role of the Christian Democrats as the ruling party,” Left party member Bijan Tavassoli told RT. “
Their criticism of the radical right-wing AfD has always been that they cannot be trusted with power. And they have themselves elected the same candidate [in Thuringia].”
The behavior of CDU’s Thuringia branch also enraged the Social Democrats, who have been the party’s traditional partner in forming the federal government. Both parties plan to hold a crisis meeting on Saturday. “The events in Thuringia break a taboo in the history of political democracy in the Federal Republic,” SPD Finance Minister Olaf Scholz said.
Very serious questions arise for us with the CDU’s federal leadership.
Relations between the coalition partners have soured in recent years. It took the CDU and SPD more than five months to form a government following the 2017 election, after which parties continued to clash on migration. Their position has grown more precarious since then, with both parties losing votes to the AfD, the Left and the Greens, who run on a more anti-establishment agenda.
At the same time, the Alternative for Germany party, which has been highly critical of the country’s relatively lax asylum laws and Merkel’s migration policies, has made considerable gains in many regional parliaments. In 2017, it won 94 seats in Bundestag, forming the largest opposition faction there.
Petr Bystron, a Bundestag member for the AfD, told RT that the events in Thuringia were “a very logical step.”
“Just look at the election result. The Christian Democrats have lost in Thuringia to the AfD because of the policies of Angela Merkel,” he explained.
“The Thuringian people said quite clearly: we would like to have a conservative coalition. And this is the majority we [now] have.”
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