A day after the election of the Thuringia state premier, a placard reads “Shame on you” during a protest in front of the state chancellery in Erfurt, eastern Germany. Picture: AFP/JENS SCHLUETER
A day after the election of the Thuringia state premier, a placard reads “Shame on you” during a protest in front of the state chancellery in Erfurt, eastern Germany. Picture: AFP/JENS SCHLUETER

Berlin — Chancellor Angela Merkel called her party’s decision to align with a far-right party in an eastern German state “unforgivable” and said it should be reversed, as the turmoil caused by the surprise move continues to reverberate throughout the country.

“This was a bad day for democracy,” Merkel said during a visit to SA. “It was a day that broke with the values and the convictions of the CDU [Christian Democratic Union] — and now everything must be done to make clear that this can in no way reflect what the CDU thinks and does.”

Merkel’s coalition partners have hastily scheduled a crisis meeting for Saturday to talk about the consequences of the surprise election of the Free Democrats’ Thomas Kemmerich as the premier of Thuringia. The FDP barely garnered enough votes to make it into the state legislature and won the vote only with the combined support of Merkel’s Christian Democrats and the anti-immigrant Alternative für Deutschland (AfD).

The election marked the first time a state premier was appointed with the far-right group’s help. All mainstream parties in Germany have vowed not to collaborate with the AfD. In a televised statement on Wednesday, CDU general secretary Paul Zemiak condemned the deal, referring to some in the party as “Nazis”.

Bjoern Hoecke, the AfD’s controversial state leader, was the mastermind behind the move. A notorious figure from the hard-right nationalist wing, he has made headlines by assailing Germany’s guilt complex, referring to the Holocaust memorial in Berlin as a “monument of shame”. A German court ruled in September that it is legal to call him a “fascist”.

In a post on Twitter, Bodo Ramelow — the deposed state premier from the Left party — alluded to the fact that the Nazis were first part of a state government in Thuringia, with the success there used as a model for their national power grab. The post included a photo of Hoecke congratulating Kemmerich below a picture of Adolf Hitler shaking hands with then president Paul von Hindenburg.

Thirty years after reunification, Thuringia — like most of the former communist states — still struggles with lower wages, an exodus of young people and the sense of being second-class to the more affluent western Germany. The AfD has exploited these shortcomings in state elections in the region late in 2019, becoming a power in the region.

The anti-establishment party, which has swept into national parliament and all 16 state assemblies in recent years, came in second place in Thuringia last October. Its inroads meant that Ramelow’s anticapitalist Left no longer had a majority to lead a coalition with the Social Democrats and the Greens.

Kemmerich faces a struggle in forming a cabinet. He has vowed not to appoint AfD ministers, while CDU officials on the national level have rejected co-operating with the administration. The head of his FDP party, Christian Lindner, has travelled to the state capital, Erfurt, and was due to make a statement later on Thursday.

Bloomberg