German governor elected with far-right help to step down

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting of the German government at the chancellery in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2020. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer)

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BERLIN (AP) — A German state governor who got the job with the help of the far-right announced after just one day in office Thursday that he is seeking a new regional vote and plans to step down, succumbing to mounting pressure from Chancellor Angela Merkel on down.

Thomas Kemmerich, of the small pro-business Free Democrats, was elected as governor of eastern Thuringia state by its regional legislature on Wednesday with the help of the far-right Alternative for Germany, or AfD.

The shock result turned into a major embarrassment for Germany’s mainstream center-right parties and revived questions about the future of the country’s governing coalition.

The governor is elected by the state legislature. Merkel — whose center-right party’s own regional lawmakers voted for Kemmerich Wednesday against national leaders’ wishes — on Thursday condemned his election as “inexcusable” and said the result must not stand.

Kemmerich narrowly defeated a left-wing incumbent after the far-right Alternative for Germany, or AfD, voted for him instead of its own candidate. Left-leaning parties and many on the center-right said that accepting votes from AfD — whether or not they were solicited — broke a taboo and was unacceptable.

Kemmerich initially held out against mounting pressure to resign, insisting that he had done and would do no deals with AfD. But with no prospect of forming a viable state government, he pulled the plug after a little more than 24 hours.

He announced that his party would seek the dissolution of the state legislature.

“With this, we want to bring about new elections in order to clear the stain of support by AfD from the office of governor,” he said.

“Democrats need democratic majorities,” he added, though he insisted that he had made no mistakes.

He added that his “resignation is inevitable,” though he didn’t specify when.

Thuringia’s last election in October produced an inconclusive result.

Previous governor Bodo Ramelow’s Left Party finished first in the election, followed by AfD and Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union. Kemmerich’s Free Democrats, traditional allies of the CDU, only just mustered enough support to enter the legislature, with five of its 90 seats. They likely will struggle to win seats in a new election.

The last election stripped Ramelow’s left-wing coalition of its majority. In a first for Germany, it produced no majority for any combination without either Ramelow’s Left Party — which the center-right shuns as a descendant of East Germany’s ruling communists, though Ramelow is moderate — or AfD, which is particularly strong and radical in the east.

Merkel said during a visit to South Africa that the outcome had been “foreseeable” — “so one has to say that this event is inexcusable, and the result must be reversed.” She said that the CDU must not participate in Kemmerich’s government.

“It was a bad day for democracy,” she said, adding that everything must now be done to show that what happened in Thuringia doesn’t reflect “what the CDU thinks and does.”

Leaders of Merkel’s often-tense coalition with the center-left Social Democrats are to meet on Saturday to discuss the Thuringia mess. Social Democrat leaders have said it raises questions for the CDU that demand quick answers, fueling renewed speculation over whether the coalition will last until its term ends late next year.

Merkel said her party has sent “very clear” signals after Wednesday’s events.

Martin Florack, a political scientist at the University of Duisburg, told ARD television that the fiasco weakens Kramp-Karrenbauer and leaves “the impression that the CDU in Berlin has no influence in Thuringia.”

Merkel’s party has yet to decide who will run to succeed her as chancellor in the next election. Kramp-Karrenbauer, who narrowly defeated a more conservative rival in 2018, has struggled to impose her authority on the party.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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