Far-right scandal forces German state to hold fresh elections

Updated February 19, 2020

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A carnival float shows Afd politicians Regional leader of AfD Thuringia Bjoern Hoecke, former co-leader Alexander Gauland, FDP politician Thomas Kemmerich and Afd politician Beatrix von Storch during a presentation of this year's canival floats of the carnival's committee in Cologne, western Germany, on February 18. — AFP
A carnival float shows Afd politicians Regional leader of AfD Thuringia Bjoern Hoecke, former co-leader Alexander Gauland, FDP politician Thomas Kemmerich and Afd politician Beatrix von Storch during a presentation of this year's canival floats of the carnival's committee in Cologne, western Germany, on February 18. — AFP

BERLIN: The eastern German state of Thuringia plans to hold new elections in spring, after a controversial vote where mainstream parties apparently cooperated with the far right, sparking national outrage.

A parliamentary vote for state premier claimed several political scalps, including that of the chosen successor of Chancellor Angela Merkel, after a liberal politician was elected with backing from both the centre and far right.

Liberal Thomas Kemmerich then stepped down, leaving Thuringia rudderless.

On Tuesday, parties from across the political spectrum haggled over a compromise to install a technical government for the next 70 days before holding fresh elections.

State lawmakers from Merkel’s CDU had voted with their far-right, anti-immigrant AfD counterparts on Feb 5 to elect Kemmerich state premier.

Thousands of people have staged street protests against the vote, which broke a taboo over centrist parties accepting help from the far right.

AfD’s rhetoric of a remote Berlin elite more interested in coddling immigrants than supporting hard-working Germans resonates in the former East.

The scandal forced the resignation of CDU leader and Merkel heir apparent Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, prompting a new race to succeed Merkel as chancellor.

In a surprise move on Monday night, ousted Left party state premier Bodo Ramelow suggested that his centre-right predecessor Christine Lieberknecht lead a skeletal administration with a handful of left-wing ministers.

But on Tuesday, the CDU’s Thuringia wing said they would only agree to a transitional government in which all ministerial positions were filled so that the state budget for 2021 could be passed.

“After the budget has been passed, there can be fresh elections,” CDU lawmakers said in a statement. Further negotiations are scheduled for Tuesday evening.

The far-right AfD said it was open to new elections, but rejected plans to install Lieberknecht at the head of a transitional administration.

Lieberknecht, 61, was Thuringian state premier from 2009-14, heading a centrist coalition with the social-democratic SPD.

She later lost her post to Ramelow, who led a coalition between the far left, the SPD and the Green Party before losing his majority at elections last October.

Meanwhile, a former German environment minister on Tuesday became the first prominent figure officially to declare his candidacy for the leadership of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right party.

Norbert Roettgen, the 54-year-old chairman of the German parliament’s foreign affairs committee, announced his unexpected decision in Berlin. His chances are at best uncertain against the three potential candidates who so far have drawn the most attention: former parliamentary group leader Friedrich Merz, state governor Armin Laschet and Health Minister Jens Spahn.

Published in Dawn, February 19th, 2020