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Far-right backed German state premier resigns

February 6, 2020

One day after being chosen state premier in Thuringia with the help of the far-right AfD, Thomas Kemmerich has said he will resign. Chancellor Merkel had called his election "unforgivable."

Thomas Kemmerich
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Schutt

The newly elected premier of the eastern state of Thuringia, Thomas Kemmerich, announced on Thursday that he wished to resign and request a dissolution of the state parliament following the outcry over his election. He described the step as "unavoidable." 

His resignation, and his call for fresh elections, are both subject to approval in parliament.

Read more: What's happened in Thuringia, and why the outcry?

Kemmerich, a member of the free-market liberal FDP party, won in an upset on Wednesday when state lawmakers from the far-right populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party threw their support behind him rather than their own candidate. 

"Along with my colleagues from the Thuringia Free Democrats, we have decided to apply for the dissolution of the state parliament," Kemmerich said in a statement barely a day after his election. "In this way, we want to usher in fresh elections, so as to remove the stain of AfD support from the office of state premier." 

He alluded to the problems of forming any kind of working majority coalition in a state dominated by Germany's far-left and far-right parties. 

"Democrats need democratic majorities, which evidently cannot be assembled in this parliament," he said. "The Free Democrats will continue to fight for a change in our politics, opposing the extreme left and right."

Kemmerich also rejected speculation that the FDP and perhaps Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) were aware of the AfD's plans to eschew their own candidate and vote for him. 

"There was, is, and will be no cooperation with the AfD. Yesterday, the AfD tried to subvert democracy with a perfidious trick. We are trying to sidestep this," Kemmerich said. 

For DW political correspondent, and Thuringia native, Anja Koch, the CDU decision to help elect Kemmerich came as a surprise.

"In the October election, the CDU had ruled out collaborating in any way with the far-right AfD and I was surprised they did not keep that promise," said DW political correspondent Anja Koch. "The AfD in Thuringia is one of the most extreme groups within the AfD. I did not think the CDU would collaborate in any way with that specific group of the AfD."

Three-quarters of the 1,008 respondents in a poll conducted on Thursday said they disapproved of Kemmerich's election with the support of the AfD. Even 58% of FDP supporters opposed Kemmerich's decision to accept his election as premier.

Björn Höcke, Alternative for Germany (AfD) party leader congratulates Free Democratic Party (FDP) candidate Thomas Kemmerich after he was elected new Thuringia premier at the state parliament in Thuringia in Erfurt, Germany, February 5, 2020.
The AfD's leader in Thuringia, Björn Höcke (right in picture, shaking Kemmerich's hand), is among the party's most extreme membersImage: Reuters/H. Hanschke

Merkel: 'A bad day for democracy'

Earlier on Thursday, reacting after spontaneous protests in Germany on Wednesday evening, Chancellor Angela Merkel had commented on the case during a trip to South Africa, calling for the result to be overturned. 

"It was a bad day for democracy. It was a day that broke with the values and convictions of the CDU, and now everything must be done to make it clear that this can in no way be reconciled with what the CDU thinks and does," Merkel had said. "This election of a state premier broke with a core conviction of the CDU and myself, namely that no majorities should be won with the help of the AfD." 

Merkel on Thuringia election

The FDP's leader at the national level, Christian Lindner, said Kemmerich was "reaching the only correct and the only possible decision" by seeking fresh elections.

"Within a day, he's freed himself from the dependence on the AfD," Lindner said of Kemmerich, adding that Kemmerich's tenure would have been forever overshadowed by the nature of his election.

On Wednesday, in his initial reactions, Lindner had described the AfD's tactical voting for his party's candidate as a "surprise," but had also said he couldn't control the voting habits of politicians in other parties.

So far, the CDU in Thuringia has said it opposes the idea of fresh elections. In order to disband parliament early and trigger a snap vote, a two-thirds majority in parliament is required. Were the AfD to oppose such a move, CDU support would be necessary to clear the hurdle. The CDU chairman in Thuringia, Mike Mohring, wrote on Twitter that there should be a vote of no-confidence in the FDP's Kemmerich, followed by the election of a new state premier, "in order to avoid snap elections."

The CDU said that its national chairwoman, Annegrret Kramp-Karrenbauer, would hold a joint press conference with Mohring later on Thursday evening. Kramp-Karrenbauer took over the top job within the CDU from Chancellor Merkel last year, making her the front-runner to replace Merkel, who will not stand for chancellor in the next general elections, currently scheduled for late 2021.  

Infografik Landtagswahl Thüringen 2019 Ergebnis EN

msh/sms (AFP, dpa, Reuters)