Just days before two key state elections, German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative party bloc was further bruised on Thursday by a third exit from a member of parliament.
Mark Hauptmann, a lawmaker with the Christian Democrats (CDU) from the state of Thuringia, quit his seat in the Bundestag on Thursday amid pressure over lobbying allegations.
His resignation follows departures — to varying degrees — by another CDU politician Nikolas Löbel, and Georg Nüsslein of Merkel's Bavarian affiliate Christian Social Union (CSU) party, over alleged pandemic face mask business dealings that sparked criticism last weekend.
What did Hauptmann say?
Hauptmann's departure follows a report by news magazine Spiegel over Azerbaijani, Taiwanese and Vietnamese tourism ads run in the "Südthüringer Kurier," a CDU-near local newspaper he publishes. He had been accused of accepting money from foreign agencies.
Hauptmann told Die Welt newspaper he "strongly refuted suspicions" and "misrepresentations" raised in the report.
"At no time, however, have these ads influenced my political decisions — I attach particular importance to that," Hauptmann told Die Welt.
"I never received any money, and there was never any influencing of my political actions," said Hauptmann, adding he had quit the Bundestag to "protect my family."
"The hostility towards my person has become too great," he exclaimed.
Study stints in Japan, USA
On his website, Hauptmann cites his study of political science and intercultural communication at Thuringia's Jena University followed by CDU-related stipendiary university stints in Osaka, Japan, and at Yale in the United States.
He had worked for the European Parliament, the CDU's Konrad Adenauer foundation in Beijing, in Thuringia's Transport Ministry, and chaired a junior CDU-CSU parliamentarians' group in the Bundestag.
During "frequent" parliamentary delegation trips abroad, said Hauptmann, he had established "many interesting contacts" greatly benefiting Thuringia's middle-sized industry, also featured in his newspaper.
This week's three exits by Merkel affiliates precede a Friday evening deadline set by parliament's CDU-CSU bloc that its 245 Bundestag members declare in writing not to have benefited from pandemic-linked trading.
While Hauptmann is not believed to be involved in the mask scandal, pressure has been rising on Merkel's conservatives over their lobbying links.
Ralf Stegner, a deputy chairman of the Social Democrats (SPD), who are currently partners in Merkel's coalition cabinet, on Thursday renewed calls for a clear code of conduct, saying Germany should ban paid lobbying at federal and regional state assembly levels.
Damage for politics 'immense'
In a DW interview on Tuesday, CSU Bundestag member Michael Frieser said he did not expect further cases beyond those of Nüsslein and Löbel.
"I don't see damage to Germany, but the damage for politics is immense," said Frieser, adding that the Bundestag needed to improve its rules on disclosure.
Transparency International Berlin spokesman Wolfgang Jäckle said Germany had had "urgent need" to put things right, based on disclosure criteria, to re-establish public trust.
ipj/rs (dpa, AFP)