Chancellor Angela Merkel's party and the far right backed the same candidate for state premier in the eastern region of Thuringia on Wednesday, a taboo-breaking move that sent shockwaves through German politics.
Thomas Kemmerich from the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) was elected as head of the state parliament with backing from members of Chancellor Merkel's Christian Democrats and the populist Alternative fur Deutschland (AfD). Mainstream parties have ruled out any form of political cooperation with the AfD.
Marking the first time the AfD has played the role of political kingmaker, the vote raised questions as to whether the right-wing party, which has surged in popularity in recent years with a nationalist, anti-immigration message, has become an unavoidable force in German politics.
The election also set the ground for a clash between federal parties – who maintain the right-wing AfD should be boycotted – and local branches which have been known to take a more pragmatic stance. The federal leadership of the Christian Democrats was quick to rebuke the actions of its state-level parliamentarians on Wednesday.
“Today is a black day for Thuringia,” said Paul Ziemiak, the party's secretary general. “The CDU [Christian Democratic Union for Germany] has made it clear again and again that it will not work together with the AfD. That stands in fundamental contradiction with Christian democratic values.”
He called for new elections. Party chairwoman Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said the local branch had expressly broken the wishes and guidelines of the party's federal leadership.
The incumbent Bodo Ramelow, from the left-wing Die Linke, had been widely expected to be re-elected in Wednesday's election but was beaten by a single vote. Mr Kemmerich's Free Democratic Party holds just five seats in the parliament.
The local head of the Christian Democrats, Mike Mohring, said his party was not responsible for the way other parties had voted in the secret ballot and said it was important that Mr Kemmerich did not allow the AfD to form part of the governing coalition.
The Thuringia branch of the AfD is known for being particularly hard-line. Its local head, Björn Höcke, has survived calls from within the party itself to oust him over his ties to far-right extremists. AfD politicians said Wednesday's vote showed that their political presence was impossible to avoid.
“Liberal-conservative majorities only exist with the AfD,” tweeted Tino Chrupalla, an AfD lawmaker, following the vote.
The Washington Post