Merkel Heir Apparent Bruised As Party Flirts With Far Right

Patrick Donahue and Arne Delfs

(Bloomberg) -- The leader of Germany’s Christian Democrats battled to recover control after a state leader lined up alongside the far right in a key regional vote.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right CDU on Wednesday voted alongside the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany to put a candidate from the pro-business FDP into power in the eastern region of Thuringia.

The unprecedented alliance provoked outrage from across the political spectrum and put on the spot CDU party leader and Merkel’s heir apparent, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who had sworn off any cooperation with the AfD. AKK, as she’s known, disavowed the state party’s decision and urged Thuringia to hold a new election.

“This is not a good day -- not for Thuringia, not for Germany’s political system,” she told reporters during a visit to Strasbourg, Deutsche Presse Agentur reported. Meanwhile protesters gathered in front of CDU headquarters in Berlin.

The leader of the FDP, Christian Lindner, said his party would never cooperate with the AfD and instead would seek to form an alternative coalition government.

The shock vote in Thuringia reveals how the AfD has upended German politics with its presence in all of Germany’s 16 states. The euroskeptic populists gained momentum on wide-spread discontent with Merkel’s immigration policy, which opened the door to more than 1 million mostly Syrian refugees.

Merkel’s junior coalition partner, the Social Democrats, lost no time in calling out political treachery. They said Merkel’s party, which denied there was any planned cooperation with the AfD, crossed a red line in backing a candidate with help from the far right.

Low Point

“It’s a catastrophe,” Diana Lehmann, an SPD lawmaker from Thuringia, said in a text response. “It’s more than breaking a taboo. The FDP and the CDU are making the AfD palatable.”

Lars Klingbeil, the SPD’s general secretary in Berlin, called the development a “low point in Germany’s postwar history.”

The political reverberations also threaten to push Merkel’s coalition with the SPD to a breaking point, the latest clash in the last two years that has driven a wedge between the governing parties.

The AfD, which has shaken up Germany’s political establishment with its attacks on Merkel’s migration policy, came in second place in the Oct. 27 state election in Thuringia. The state’s premier, Bodo Ramelow of the anti-capitalist Left party, no longer had a majority to lead a coalition with the state SPD and the Greens.

Wednesday’s vote was intended to install Ramelow for a second term at the head of a minority government. After failing in two rounds to secure an absolute majority, Ramelow was poised to win with a simple majority. Instead, the FDP nominated Thomas Kemmerich as its candidate, with the backing of the CDU.

It was at that moment that the AfD, which had nominated its own candidate, swung its votes behind the Free Democrat, upending what was intended to be Ramelow’s re-election. In October, the FDP had barely garnered enough votes to make it into the state legislature.

“This premiership election in Thuringia is the first important piece in the mosaic of a fundamental political change in Germany,” the AfD’s co-leader, Joerg Meuthen, said in a statement. “The socialist specter and the post-communist tenure of Ramelow has come to an end.”

The CDU leader of Thuringia, Mike Mohring, said he expects Kemmerich to maintain a “clear separation” from the AfD even though the far-right party helped elect him to office. He said there was no collusion between the CDU and AfD.

(Updates with AKK quotes in third and fourth paragraph)

To contact the reporters on this story: Patrick Donahue in Berlin at pdonahue1@bloomberg.net;Arne Delfs in Berlin at adelfs@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Ben Sills at bsills@bloomberg.net, Raymond Colitt, Andrew Blackman

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