German state premier quits, calls for poll

The premier of Germany’s Thuringia state stepped down and called for snap elections on Thursday, barely 24 hours after he was elected with the help of far-right AfD in a vote Chancellor Angela Merkel called “unforgivable”.

Thomas Kemmerich, from the liberal Free Democrats, said he would apply for the regional Parliament to be dissolved in response to the outrage over his appointment, which drew comparisons with the rise of Nazis in the 1930s. “We want elections to remove the stain of the AfD’s support from the office of the premiership,” he said.

Mr. Kemmerich’s election on Wednesday marked the first time in German post-war history that a state premier was helped into office by accepting far-right votes, crossing a red line in a nation haunted by its Nazi past.

He became the surprise winner of a run-off vote after AfD lawmakers ditched their own candidate to back him, in what Mr. Kemmerich called “a perfidious trick” by the far right.

Chancellor Merkel called the vote “unforgivable” and said the result “must be reversed”.

She reiterated that her centre-right CDU would never work with the anti-Islam, anti-immigrant AfD, on a regional or national level.

Thousands took to the streets in cities across Germany late Wednesday to vent their dismay at the vote outcome, including in Berlin, Frankfurt and Thuringia’s capital Erfurt.

Some carried signs that read “Never again”, while others recalled that it was in Thuringia in 1930 that a Nazi minister was first allowed into government.

The aftershocks of the crisis were being felt in Berlin too, since Thuringian state lawmakers from Ms. Merkel’s own CDU lined up with the FDP and far right in voting for Mr. Kemmerich over popular incumbent Bodo Ramelow from the far-left Die Linke.

Ms. Merkel’s coalition partners, the centre-left Social Democratic (SPD), reacted furiously to the debacle, calling for her conservative party to clearly distance itself from the AfD if the national government is to survive.

“There can be no carrying on as usual without resolving this problem,” fumed SPD co-leader Norbert Walter-Borjans.

The SPD and CDU are due to hold crisis talks in Berlin on Saturday.

Addressing the controversy during a visit to South Africa, Ms. Merkel called Wednesday’s vote “a bad day for democracy” and said the role played by her local allies “broke with the values and convictions of the CDU”.

Christian Lindner, national leader of the FDP, one of Germany’s smaller parties, said Mr. Kemmerich was right to free himself “from dependency on the AfD”.

But given the political storm, Christian Lindner said it was necessary to reaffirm his own position at an emergency meeting of the party’s leadership in Berlin on Friday.

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Printable version | Mar 30, 2020 8:19:19 PM |

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