German parties under pressure after far right helps elect state PM

By Stefan Hantzschmann in Erfurt and Rachel More, dpa

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) are one of two German parties under immense pressure in the central state of Thuringia after they voted in line with the far right to elect a regional leader.

The shock election of Thomas Kemmerich of the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) on Wednesday marked the first time in German history that a state premier made it into office with the help of the Alternative for Germany (AfD).

The AfD has been on the ascent for years amid growing opposition to refugees, becoming a major opposition force in state and federal politics. However, it has remained a pariah as establishment parties have vowed not to work with its lawmakers.

Wednesday’s shock election appeared to change that: Kemmerich was voted into office with the combined support of the AfD, CDU and FDP, beating incumbent Bodo Ramelow of the hard-left Die Linke party by one vote.

On Thursday, FDP leader Christian Lindner was headed to Thuringia – formerly part of communist East Germany, where the far right has made gains in recent years – to speak to his party colleagues in the state capital Erfurt, he told dpa.

Meanwhile, CDU leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer warned the Thuringia branch of her party not to work with Kemmerich.

“This state premier has no parliamentary majority, he must always be propped up by the AfD,” she told the ZDF broadcaster late Wednesday.

The eastern German state is still without a government and it is not clear whether Kemmerich will be able to form one. His party barely cleared the 5-per-cent hurdle in October’s state elections. He has ruled out cooperating with the AfD in government.

Ramelow, Germany’s first state premier from Die Linke, had hoped to lead a minority government together with the Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens.

Parts of the FDP are calling for Kemmerich’s withdrawal and there have been cross-party calls for fresh elections.

However, Kemmerich came out swinging in a televised interview early Thursday.

“The work begins now,” he told the ARD public broadcaster. “New elections in this situation would only strengthen the fringes.”

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