German government calls for new elections in Thuringia after uproar

By Christian Andresen and Theresa Muench, dpa

Germany’s coalition parties have called for voters in Thuringia to return to the polls after the shock election of a state premier with the help of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) triggered national outrage and protests.

“We rule out forming a government or political majorities with votes from the AfD,” a statement from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives and the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) read following a crisis meeting of coalition party leaders in Berlin.

Thomas Kemmerlich of the pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP) beat out left-wing incumbent Bodo Ramelow to become state premier in Thuringia on Wednesday with the support of lawmakers from Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) and the AfD.

Working with the AfD – an anti-immigrant party accused of harbouring Nazi sympathizers and fuelling anti-Semitism – has been a red line for German establishment parties. News that the FDP, CDU and the AfD had supported the same candidate in the small central state led thousands to hold protests in cities across Germany.

As the political crisis escalated, Kemmerich was forced to announce his resignation within 24 hours of taking office. On Saturday, he officially left the post.

Saturday’s national coalition talks yielded two demands: first, that an interim state premier be selected in the Thuringia legislature, and second, that new parliamentary elections be held “on grounds of political legitimization,” the governing parties said.

They echoed comments made earlier in the week by Merkel, saying that the selection of a state leader with a majority made possible by AfD votes was “an unforgiveable occurrence.”

Ramelow’s hard-left Die Linke won Thuringia’s state elections in October – a nationwide first for the party – with 31 per cent of the vote.

The AfD received 23 per cent, surpassing the CDU to emerge as the second-strongest political force in the state. The FDP only just netted the 5 per cent it needed to make it into parliament.

According to figures from pollsters Forsa released on Friday, 37 per cent of voters in Thuringia would vote for Die Linke and 24 per cent for the AfD if an election was held in the near future. The FDP would muster only 4-per-cent support, falling short of the threshold to enter parliament.

Earlier on Saturday, a government commissioner who had congratulated Kemmerlich on his election announced that he was stepping down following pressure from Merkel.

As commissioner for Germany’s formerly communist eastern states, Christian Hirte had been tasked with advancing the integration of Thuringia and four other states that made up East Germany before reunification in 1990. He also served as the deputy head of the CDU in the state, a deputy economy minister, and also sits in the federal parliament in Berlin.

Hirte was criticized for tweeting congratulations and “good luck” to Kemmerich on his surprise elevation to the premiership.

“Chancellor Merkel told me in a conversation that I can no longer be the federal government commissioner for the new states. Following her suggestion, I therefore asked for my dismissal,” he wrote on Twitter.

It was not initially known when Hirte would leave his commissioner’s role, which is part of the Ministry for Economic Affairs. He also serves as parliamentary state secretary at the ministry, a job Merkel has also asked him to resign from, according to her spokesman.

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