A huge political upset in Germany’s eastern state of Thuringia on Wednesday sparked a widespread outcry across the country as the ruling coalition saw its candidate for state premier lose by a single vote to the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP), who had barely cleared the 5% support hurdle to join the regional parliament.
What was even more cause for concern, however, was the role of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party in the victory of FDP candidate Thomas Kemmerich (above).
Thuringia held its state election all the way back in October, with the ruling Left party winning the highest share of the votes at 31%. At the same time, however, the AfD more than doubled its own support to come in second at 23.4% of the vote.
The AfD is an ethno-nationalist party that is opposed to non-European immigration, what the perceive as the “Islamization” of Germany, and is opposed to reforms that tackle climate change.
Only two hours after the vote in the state capital of Erfurt, protestors had already gathered outside the parliament building:
A single vote
The Left party has spent months trying to form a coalition with the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) and the Green party. After a lot of protracted wrangling, the three parties had finally signed an agreement to rule together on Tuesday evening.
It was expected that lawmakers in Thuringia’s parliament would elect the Left party incumbent, Bodo Ramelow, without much fanfare. However, the AfD decided not to support its own partyless candidate and throw all of its support behind Kemmerich.
Together with the votes of his own party and the center-right Christian Democrats (CDU), to which Chancellor Angela Merkel belongs, Kemmerich came away with 45 votes to Ramelow’s 44.
The outrage on social media over the AfD’s role as kingmakers was swift and resounding. Ordinary Germans, public figures, and politicians all expressed their consternation, saying the FDP and CDU had gotten into bed with “fascists.”
On their official Twitter page, the Left party accused the FDP of believing that it was “better to rule with fascists than not to rule at all.”
Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, an outspoken member of the FDP in Germany’s federal parliament, said that while she liked Kemmerich personally, it was “unacceptable” to allow oneself to be elected by someone like Björn Höcke, the spokesman for the AfD in Thuringen.
Höcke congratulated Kemmerich on his wind. Kemmerich has been criticized for accepting the handshake.
“This is a hard day for me” as a member of the FDP, she wrote.
Höcke is one of the most controversial figures in the AfD’s leadership structure, having criticized the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin, advocating the abolition of a law that makes Holocaust denial illegal in Germany, amongst numerous other scandals.
It is unclear what will happen next as Thuringia tries to form a government, but Kemmerich has said he will refuse to form a ruling coalition with the AfD.