German governor suddenly resigns
BERLIN >> A German state governor installed with the help of a far-right party said Saturday he is resigning with immediate effect, three days after his election shook the country’s politics and stoked new tensions in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government.
Thomas Kemmerich’s announcement came as leaders of Merkel’s governing coalition, meeting in Berlin to discuss the fallout, demanded that he go and the legislature of the eastern state of Thuringia “promptly” choose a successor. They called for that to be followed quickly by a new regional election.
Pro-business politician Kemmerich’s election was only possible because the far-right Alternative for Germany, or AfD, supported him in a vote in the state legislature — as did the regional branch of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, against the wishes of its national leadership.
Kemmerich’s acceptance of AfD’s votes appalled left-leaning parties and many in his own center-right camp. Merkel called his election “inexcusable.” The politician from the small Free Democrats — a party that is in opposition nationally but it is a traditional ally of Merkel’s CDU — announced a day after he was elected that he planned to step down, though he left unclear when.
That wasn’t enough for many, including the center-left Social Democrats, the junior partners in Merkel’s governing coalition. The Thuringia mess was the latest in a succession of events that have periodically cast doubt on whether the government will last until the end of its term in late 2021.
Kemmerich said in a statement Saturday that he was resigning “with immediate effect” and paying back to the state all wages earned as a result of his election. It wasn’t immediately clear when exactly a successor might be elected.
That came as leaders of Merkel’s coalition released a statement demanding that he leave and a replacement be elected by state lawmakers. They added that, above and beyond that, “the coalition partners are convinced that for reasons of political legitimacy ... new elections are necessary in Thuringia soon.”
Earlier Saturday, Merkel fired a federal official whose departure the Social Democrats had sought over the fiasco, another move toward defusing tensions.
Christian Hirte, a member of Merkel’s CDU who was the government’s commissioner for the formerly communist east and a deputy economy minister, tweeted that he resigned after Merkel told him he could no longer do the job. Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, confirmed his dismissal.
Thuringian state governor Thomas Kemmerich of the Free Democrats party briefs the media during a news conference in Erfurt, Germany, Thursday.