Annegert Kramp-Karrenbauer has given up her post as Chairwoman of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), and is no longer seen as a favourite for Germany’s chancellorship after a political scandal in Thuringia.
The leader of Germany's governing Christian Democratic Union (CDU) resigned as head of the party on Monday.
Annegert Kramp-Karrenbauer was Chancellor Angela Merkel's choice as successor to govern the country, but after a political scandal, she decided she would not seek the position after Merkel.
A gubernatorial election took place in Thuringia state in Germany on Wednesday, February 5, 2020. A local chapter of the centre-right CDU collaborated with the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party to elect a governor.
CDU's collaboration with the xenophobic and racist AfD was a violation of party policy of not to associate with the far-right, and it was an example of how the CDU party leadership did not have full power over the extensions of the party.
"The AfD stands against everything we as the CDU represent," Kramp-Karrenbauer said Monday. "Any convergence with AfD weakens the CDU."
As a result of the collaboration, long-time Governor Bodo Ramelow of the leftist Left Party lost to the Free Democratic Party (FDP) candidate Thomas Kemmerich by one vote (44 to 45), German weekly Der Spiegel reported, calling it "a dark day for democracy".
Yet on Friday, it looked as if Kemmerich, "the right's favoured candidate" according to Der Spiegel, would step down because of protests against his election. Thuringia will either have to hold new elections or the parties would have to find a compromise candidate to avoid such a result.
Demonstrators across Germany chanted anti-fascist slogans throughout the week, leading up to Kramp-Karrenbauer's decision to step back as the leader of the CDU. She remains in her post as defence minister.
"A whiff of Weimar — I say, not exaggerating and having reflected deeply on this — hangs over the republic," Gerhart Rudolf Baum, a former centre-right interior minister, told German public radio.
While Germany now is not the Germany of the Weimar era, some parallels exist. Thuringia's gubernatorial election had symbolic significance because it was there that Hitler's Nazis first came to power with the help of right-wing conservative parties before taking over the entire country and plunging it into the horrors of the Holocaust and World War II.
"Analogies like this prove nothing. But one lesson from the Weimar Republic is that far-right extremists come to power because mainstream conservatives want to use them to remain in power," Der Spiegel staff wrote.
"It's now up to the leadership of the CDU and the FDP to categorize this flirtation with the far-right as a one-off occurrence. A slip that may never repeat itself."
The AfD leadership is happy that Kramp-Karrenbauer has stepped back and claimed that the CDU would be foolish to try to shut out the AfD from any political calculations.
"It is completely nonsensical and delusional not to want to work with the AfD in the long term," Alexander Gauland, a senior AfD leader said, the New York Times reported. "[Kramp-Karrenbauer's] party grassroots have long understood this."
Martin Patzelt of the CDU and a supporter of Merkel's refugee policy has said before the events in Thuringia that he understands why shutting out AfD offends the far-right party and also more conservative factions of CDU voters as well.
"We can't stick our heads in the sand and pretend they're not there," Patzelt said in a recent interview, the New York Times reported. "The AfD is not going away. We need to learn how to deal with them in a mature way."
For now, the CDU remains divided amongst politicians who are deeply opposed to collaborating with the AfD versus those who believe that some of their more conservative voters are seeking ways to co-exist with the far-right party.
The AfD's rise in Germany
Founded in 2013 as a conservative, eurosceptic party, the AfD has evolved into a xenophobic party with fascist leanings. The AfD was initially against bailing out economically challenged EU countries such as Greece and Italy but became anti-immigrant after Angela Merkel's welcoming policies let in more than 1.5 million migrants arrive in Germany since 2015, according to Deutsche Welle.
The AfD co-opted the slogan of Germans who lived through the fall of the Berlin Wall, "We are the people", and "have turned this expression of democratic resistance into a totem of opposition to multiculturalism," according to the Guardian.
While Titus Molkenbur and Luke Cooper, writing for the Guardian based on their report say there are significant regional differences in the support for the party across Germany, they do warn that "The AfD's rise should profoundly concern all Europeans," noting that "Nearly a third of the party now align with the extreme-right platform, the Wing, whose leaders play down Nazi-era atrocities and argue that foreign 'intruders' are overwhelming ethnic Germans."