Political shock in Thuringia: what comes next?

The election of liberal FDP politician Thomas Kemmerich as premier of the German state of Thuringia with votes from his own party, the CDU and the far-right AfD sent shock waves through Germany last week. After Kemmerich stepped down amidst the outrage the former premier Bodo Ramelow has said he is willing to run for the office again. Observers outside Germany see the way the Germany politicians have dealt with the election scandal as symptomatic.

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Lidové noviny (CZ) /

Black and white thinking on both sides

The various attempts to deal with the fallout of the political upheaval in Thuringia reveal a torn Germany, Lidové noviny observes:

“When Chancellor Merkel said that Kemmerich's election was 'unforgivable' and had to be reversed, she was applauded by politicians and the media. Beyond the mainstream, however, some people accused Merkel of unconstitutionality. ... For some, the main political damage is that the AfD was able to bolster its legitimacy. For others, it's the Chancellor's call to revoke the formally correct vote. This conflict, the different perceptions of the same event, and the reactions to it may pose a greater risk to social cohesion than the AfD's success. One feels reminded of Weimar 90 years ago.”

El País (ES) /

An exemplary intervention

In Spain, where several regions have conservative-liberal coalitions that are dependent on the far-right party Vox, people are watching events in Germany closely, El País comments:

“Chancellor Merkel has demonstrated a commendable sense of democracy with her exemplary intervention. ... Very disparate and even incompatible ideas can coexist in a democracy, but everyone is united by respect for the rules of the game and its democratic commitment. And that is the difference between these and other forces that question democracy and try to use its mechanisms to gain power. The democratic politicians in Germany have proven that they have understood this.”

Lidové noviny (CZ) /

Excluding the AfD is counterproductive

Lidové noviny, on the other hand, sees things spiralling out of control:

“The AfD is a risk party, extreme and unacceptable for traditional conservatives. All the more so in Thuringia, where it is led by the particularly radical Björn Höcke. But what happens if there are new elections there? ... In the latest election the Left and the AfD won 54 percent of the vote, which has left Germany stranded on a slippery slope: first of all there is no longer a majority for either a left or a conservative government. Then - as in Saxony - there will no longer be a majority for a grand coalition. And after that, without the help of the AfD there can no longer even be a right-wing minority government. So what then? Further marginalisation of the AfD, which will only bring it more voters?”

Deutsche Welle (RO) /

Much ado about nothing

The Romanian service of German broadcaster Deutsche Welle sees the fuss over Kemmerich's election as unnecessary:

“Politically correct Germany is outraged at the entirely coherent election of a liberal premier with votes from right-wing parties. ... Together they form a majority which a number of political leaders ignore and reject for reasons of cognitive dissonance. ... Because this majority would include the unwelcome right-wing populists from the AfD. And so we find ourselves in an abstruse situation in which the Christian Democrats are more likely to help a head of government from the left, i.e. the ex-SED [the governing party of the GDR], back into power than to allow a liberal to come to power. ... What were the CDU MPs in Erfurt supposed to have opted for? A post-communist government which has lost the trust of Thuringia's voters? In other words, to scorn the election results and the sovereignty of the people?”

Der Standard (AT) /

A perfidious attack by the enemies of democracy

The case of Thuringia is not so much about whether the firewall against the AfD has become full of holes, explains Der Standard:

“You don't have to be a gifted demagogue to dismiss such concerns as disregard for normal democratic procedures. So it is worth taking a second look at the vote itself: No, it is not normal democratic procedure when the AfD Group puts up a fake candidate but then elects the candidate of a five-percent party as head of government in order to cast itself as kingmaker. Something that is legally correct can still be a political farce. This is precisely what the enemies of democracy flirt with - thus attacking the system. This has now been recognised in Erfurt too. Late, but at least it has been recognised.”

Bild (DE) /

CDU leader lacks a knack for politics

The situation could also become dangerous for the CDU chairwoman, Bild points out:

“Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer is determined to become chancellor, but she's already shown that she lacks the necessary authority and leadership qualities to bring even the CDU's association in Thuringia to heel. State leader Mike Mohring has been doing as he pleases for months while Kramp-Karrenbauer simply looked on from the sidelines. This is embarrassing for the CDU and shameful for Germany's international reputation. A strong CDU leader would have recognised the danger lurking in Thuringia. She would have seen a crisis looming. And she would have intervened. AKK has once again shown that she hasn't got what it takes. A leader who fails in talks with the CDU in Erfurt cannot expect her party to trust her as a candidate for chancellor.”

Tageblatt (LU) /

In office thanks to a fascist

Tageblatt newspaper is appalled:

“This breaks a taboo. The AfD in Thuringia is regarded as particularly radical. Their faction leader Björn Höcke is a fascist. One is officially allowed to say this; a court ruled on it. So the CDU and FDP forged an alliance with a fascist and his party in order to gain power. The fascist and his party like to call this alliance a 'conservative alliance', because the fascist and his party like to call themselves a 'conservative' party. But with their irresponsible actions, which are only aimed at satisfying their own short-term interests, the conservatives and liberals in Thuringia have done their fascist partner a favour of inestimable political value.”

Rzeczpospolita (PL) /

German elites' nightmares are coming true

Now a right-wing populist party is also gaining a foothold in Germany, Rzeczpospolita comments:

“The decision by local politicians in the FDP and CDU will have an impact on the nationwide political landscape. The German elites' worst nightmare is now becoming reality: the quarantine imposed on the anti-immigration and Eurosceptic AfD has been broken because local politicians of the traditional right-wing parties (CDU and FDP) have defied their party headquarters, which had promised never to enter an alliance with the AfD. Indeed, they formed this alliance very quickly and without problems.”

Zeit Online (DE) /

As unscrupulous as the US Republicans

The conservative elites have become morally corrupt, Zeit Online observes:

“What could a conservatism that is willing to cooperate with Höcke just to get rid of Ramelow represent apart from the kind of unscrupulous behaviour we otherwise associate with the US Republicans? We'd almost been lulled into accepting the false conservative claim that the AfD and Left Party were equally dangerous. But by indirectly showing that they prefer the AfD to the Left Party, the CDU and FDP have crossed a red line. They may now have to fight to keep their East German associations firmly in the democratic camp. At least in the East, both parties no longer represent the centre of society. It's a simple - and bitter - reality.”

Neue Zürcher Zeitung (CH) /

That's democracy for you

The Neue Zürcher Zeitung doesn't have a problem with Thomas Kemmerich's being elected thanks to votes from the AfD:

“That's democracy! What took place in the Erfurt parliament was a free election, and what's more a liberal-conservative candidate won it. There's no plausible reason to condemn the result on a moral basis. On the contrary, it is thoroughly irritating to see conservative politicians from the CDU and the FDP feeling embarrassed and publicly distancing themselves from their Thuringian colleagues. It would be a different matter if Kemmerich were now seeking to form a government with the Thuringian AfD leader. But he has clearly and unequivocally distanced himself from Björn Höcke and his party. He is aiming for a minority government with the CDU in Thuringia. Allowing himself to be elected by the AfD in order to pursue his political objectives is no blemish on his reputation.”

Le Temps (CH) /

Neither the SPD nor Merkel can hide now

Commenting in Le Temps, political scientist Gilbert Casasus expects a clear reaction from Berlin:

“At such moments all democrats worthy of the name must show true grit. The Social Democrats of the SPD must threaten to withdraw from the federal governing coalition with a party that has decided to combine its votes with those of the far right, even if it was only for a state election. The SPD should come out and accuse its coalition partner the CDU of kowtowing to the AfD. ... But the same goes for Angela Merkel. She must not remain silent. And if she does, she will have to face the largely justified criticism that, by failing to denounce this wound inflicted on the very heart of her country's democratic life, she has failed to rise to the occasion.”