Turmoil in Thuringia

Feb 6, 2020 | Blog

Image tweeted by die Linke leader in Thuringia, Bodo Ramelow: “Hold your head up, not your hands!”

With the shock election of a minority party member to the position of minister president of Thuringia with the help of the AfD, Germany’s political landscape suffers an earthquake

While all eyes seem to be riveted on the US presidential impeachment – or lack thereof – simmering political turmoil in Germany has suddenly erupted into scandal. The situation was described this morning by Chancellor Angela Merkel as an “unforgivable process”.

The event that has set the cat amongst the pigeons was the election of FDP (Free Democratic Party) candidate Thomas Kemmerich to the position of minister president in the German state of Thuringia. Innocuous? Not so much.

Although the Thuringia state election took place on 27 October 2019, the results gave no clear majority to any party – but with the two parties on the fringes of the political spectrum gaining the most support. The far left-leaning die Linke secured 30 per cent of votes, followed in second place by the far-right AfD (Alternativ für Deutschland) with 23.4 per cent. The only other party with comparable figures was the centre-right CDU (Christian Democratic Union), trailing the AfD with 21.7 per cent of the vote. The centre-right, neo-liberal FDP just squeaked in with 5 per cent.

The results show a state riven by political discord. This played out in the attempts to elect a minister president to lead the government. The now former minister president Bodo Ramelow, a Linke party member, had been expected to resume his position. 

But rancour amongst the various parties could not be resolved, coalition agreements could not be reached. The CDU – which could have formed a coalition with die Linke – refused to go into government with them. No party wished to work together with the AfD, known for its anti-immigrant stance, branded racist in many quarters, and harbouring alleged connections and sympathies with the Nazis. 

Three votes took place. The Linke and AfD parties both put candidates up for the state parliamentary vote for minister president: Ramelow by die Linke, and independent candidate Christoph Kindervater by the AfD. Ramelow was unable to regain victory with the combined votes from his own party, the SPD and the Greens. In the third round, a new, surprise candidate presented himself: Kemmerich from the FDP, the party least represented in the Thuringian state parliament. He won over Ramelow by one vote, 45 to 44 – with every member of the AfD switching their vote to him from their own candidate in this round. Together with the support of the CDU and Kemmerich’s FDP, it was enough to push him through.

AfD leader Björn Höcke (right) congratulates Thomas Kemmerich on his victory in a screen grab from a story in Spiegel magazine

Conspiracy theories about agreements – secret or tacit – abound, although the FDP insist there were no discussions or trade-offs, and that they would not work together with the AfD. But the political, press and social media shitstorm whipped up by this event has taken over the airwaves – nudging even the coronovirus into second place.

Politicians from almost all corners have resoundingly condemned Kemmerich’s acceptance of the vote, many calling for new state elections in Thuringia. Up to now, Kemmerich has, however, remained firm and insists that he has been legitimately elected to the post of minister president. Both Merkel and CDU party leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer have voiced their disapproval, with AKK saying that her compatriots in Thuringia voted against the advice of the federal party leadership, and threatening consequences. Even in Bavaria, Markus Söder, the leader of the CSU (Christlich Social Union, right-leaning sister party of the CDU), said that his party would “not take part in any such adventure if it extended to the federal level”. A tweet from CSU party member Dorothee Bär, however, congratulated Kemmerich for his victory – and was immediately and vociferously condemned and swiftly removed.

Screenshot of tweet by Bodo Ramelow quoting Hitler: “We aimed for our greatest success in Thuringia”.

After the vote, Ramelow quoted Hitler in a tweet on Wednesday evening: “‘We aimed for our greatest success in Thuringia … The parties in Thuringia that formed the government up to now will not be able to command a majority without our help.’” The tweet refers to the fact that Thuringia was the first German state in the Weimar Republic to include the Nazis in its notorious Baum-Frick government in 1930, helping to pave the way for their dominance across Germany.

The spectre of Nazism remains fresh – reminding most people of what once happened, what could happen and what should never again take place. 


Bowing to pressure, the newly elected minister president Thomas Kemmerich has announced he is stepping down. The FDP in Thuringen plans to put forward a proposal to dissolve the state parliament and precipitate a new election.


Christine Madden is an Irish-German writer, editor and writing coach based in Berlin and southwest France. Her journalism has appeared in the Irish Times, the Irish Independent, The Local Germany, the Guardian and the magazine ExBerliner, and she has been broadcast on BBC radio.


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