Germany shaken as far-right plays regional kingmaker

It has been a tenet of German politics since the Second World War that mainstream political parties do not legitimise far right movements by siding with them on any issue – but that taboo was shattered on Wednesday, eliciting nationwide outrage.

In the eastern German state of Thuringia, Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrat party (CDU) and the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) both used the parliamentary support of nationalist party Alternative fur Deutschland to bring their choice of leader to power.

Thomas Kemmerich, a little-known, pro-business member of the FDP, now has AfD to thank for helping him become minister president of Thuringia, after they threw him their support unexpectedly. No state prime minister has ever been elected with AfD support.

Politicians from the national CDU party claimed their regional affiliates acted against their will, and immediately called for fresh elections. It was “a bad day for Thuringia, a bad day for Germany”, said Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, German minister of defence and chairwoman of the CDU.

Thuringia’s state elections in October only won Kemmerich’s FDP 5% of the vote, looking instead to have secured the incumbent, Bodo Ramelow, of Die Linke (The Left), another term in office.

Ramelow, who called Wednesday’s events a “disgusting charade”, had negotiated a minority coalition with the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) and the Green party, and seemed to be about to re-assume his post as premier, when the AfD threw their weight behind Kemmerich, who will now take the position instead.

Thuringia, which has a population of just over two million, was the first region to elect a National Socialist government in 1930.

Although the AfD will almost certainly not be invited into government, Thuringia’s parliamentary maths means their votes will be needed if the new FDP-led government wants to pass anything, handing them the kind of power their previous ostracising was in place to prevent.

“It is a new low point in Germany’s post-war history,” said Lars Klingbeil, secretary-general of the SPD.

Klinbeil was echoed by the party’s deputy leader, Kevin Kuhnert. “The breaking of the taboo which has led the AfD to real power will now forever be linked to the CDU and FDP,” he said. “The masks have fallen.”

The Financial Times says: “The outcome of the political horse-trading in Thuringia has added resonance because of the identity of the AfD’s leader in the state. Bjorn Hocke is a nationalist firebrand from the far-right wing of the party, whom even fellow AfD politicians have likened to Joseph Goebbels.”

Kemmerich insisted that the AfD would play no direct role in his government, but as he made his maiden speech at the state parliament in the town of Erfurt, The Guardian reports he was interrupted with shouts of “charlatan” and “hypocrite”.

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Public broadcaster MDR reported that more than 1,000 demonstrators were on the streets of Erfurt, while other protests were held in Weimar, Jena, and Gera, Thuringia’s other main cities.

“Hundreds of people protested in front of Mr Kemmerich’s party headquarters in Berlin,” reports the BBC, “and the hashtag #Dammbruch (dam burst) was trending on Wednesday evening in Germany.”

The events fall at a time in German politics where traditional boundaries and allegiances are shifting, and, in particular, the post-war repudiation of the far-right is weakening.

“Traditional conservatives in Merkel’s party are agitating for a more relaxed approach to cooperating with the far right while CDU centrists are eyeing up a future coalition with the Greens,” says The Guardian. “The Thuringia upset could mark a watershed moment.”


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