The far-right AfD is benefiting from the political turmoil in Thuringia, says Alexander Görlach. And as long as centrist parties including Angela Merkel's CDU point fingers at one another, democracy could be at risk.
Since February 5, the German political sphere has been dealing with fallout from parliamentary dealings in the eastern state of Thuringia. These saw a member of the laissez-faire Free Democrats (FDP) assume the post of state premier with the support of the far-right populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party and Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats (CDU).
Attention had first focused on how the AfD's gambit — giving all its parliamentary votes to the FDP candidate and none to the party's own — had discredited the more centrist CDU and FDP. But AfD Thuringia head Björn Höcke, who can legally be called a fascist, was even more successful in his effort to play those two parties against each other.
The FDP has apologized to supporters nationwide, and its national leader faced — and survived — a no-confidence vote. The party's chair in Thuringia, who had assumed the role of state premier with the controversial backing, announced his resignation following protests and continues in a caretaker position.
The party and parliamentary head of the CDU in Thuringia, Mike Mohring, said he would step down from both roles. Additionally, Merkel's anointed successor, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, announced she would no longer lead the CDU at the national level or serve as its chancellor candidate in the 2021 elections.
Thuringia's 'never again'
Next year, Germans will go to the polls to replace Merkel, who has led coalition governments since 2005.
The current junior governing partner, the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), has occasionally lingered below 10% support in the polls. It is trying to capitalize on the events in Thuringia by saying the parties to its right are no longer democratic.
The Greens, currently on a political upswing, are marching under the banner of "Never Again!" and attempting to attach the Nazi label to the rival FDP.
Read more: Opinion: A disgrace for Germany
Thuringia's AfD leader Höcke (R) congratulates Thomas Kemmerich (L), the FDP politician who became state premier — for one day
Until now, "Never Again!" has united all of Germany's mainstream parties against the right. After the Thuringia parliamentary vote and subsequent protests, Harvard professor Daniel Ziblatt, author of the book How Democracies Die, expressed his belief that German society had unequivocally rejected racism and right-wing extremism.
This becomes more difficult when leading figures of mainstream parties accuse their political rivals of having abandoned the constitution. Such behavior splits the parties first, and then society. This ultimately strengthens the AfD and its adherents.
The parties on the left of Germany's political spectrum may consider this a calculated risk that could pave the way for a coalition on the federal level between the SPD, the Greens, and the Left, the successor to East Germany's ruling communist party.
As with the AfD, factions of the Left party are under observation by Germany's domestic intelligence agency. Thuringia is home to numerous figures that were active in East Germany's dictatorship and remain unwilling to denounce the unjust state that it was.
In some state parliaments in Germany, the radical right and the extreme left already have the numbers to build an absolute majority. This underscores, yet again, that the parties of the center would do better to cooperate than to tear each other apart.