Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), caused an uproar in Germany on Wednesday after it teamed up with the far-right Alternative for Germany to back the election of a new leader in the state of Thuringia.
Thomas Kemmerich from the pro-business Free Democrats beat the incumbent by one vote to become the premier of the eastern state.
It is the first time that the AfD has been a “kingmaker” and helped a state premier to power. The CDU’s co-support of the candidate has been slammed as scandalous, and “taboo-breaking” by politicians across the spectrum, who are accusing the Christian Democrats of normalising the far-right party.
The CDU has repeatedly said it would never cooperate with the radical anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim party, which entered the German parliament after the last election.
Social media erupted on Wednesday afternoon, with the Social Democrats, Merkel’s junior coalition partners in the federal government, expressing disgust. SPD leader Norbert Walter-Borjans tweeted that it was a “scandal of the highest order.”
Merkel’s vice-chancellor, the finance minister Olaf Scholz (from the SPD) also weighed in on Twitter, writing: “The events in Thuringia break a taboo in the history of political democracy in the Federal Republic. This has effects far beyond #Thuringia. This poses very serious questions for us at the top of the federal government.”
Social Democrat general secretary Lars Klingbeil said on Twitter: “A day on which a state premier is elected into power with the votes of CDU, FDP and AfD is a low point in Germany’s postwar history.”
Today’s events in Thuringia will further damage the already unstable, strife-torn government in Berlin, with the risk that it finally falls apart.
The new state premier Kemmerich has ruled out forming a ruling coalition with the AfD in Thuringia. In his speech after the vote, he invited the CDU, SPD and Greens Party to work together with him.
“Those who voted for Kemmerich have chosen a bitter opponent to all that shows even a hint of violence — be that right or left — or fascism,” he said.
Björn Höcke, the AfD leader in the state, is one of the most radical of the party’s leaders. Höcke heads up an extreme side-wing within the AfD, and has called for an end of Germany’s culture of atonement for the Holocaust, and all the suffering it caused the world under Hitler and the Nazis.
The rise of the AfD is linked to the alarming rise in far-right extremism and hate speech in Germany, something the government is trying to police and root out with great difficulty.
“It's a black day,” Bernd Riexinger, co-chair of the Left party told Deutsche Welle. “The CDU and FDP have clearly acted as stirrup-holders for the AfD.”
Demonstrators gathered outside the parliament in Erfurt, the state capital, to protest after the announcement of the vote.
Germany’s front pages were also quick to condemn the vote in Thuringia. “The AfD now has its first premier,” said political magazine Der Spiegel.
“The Kemmerich vote is a shame,” said the Süddeutsche Zeitung broadsheet.