Merkel Party Chief Faces Deepening Divide Over Far Right Episode

(Bloomberg) -- The leader of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats is struggling with a deepening divide in her party over how to deal with regional lawmakers’ rogue alignment with the far-right.

CDU Chairwoman Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer failed in an effort to convince legislators in the eastern state of Thuringia to support growing calls for a new election. Chancellor Angela Merkel, the Social Democrats and others had demanded a fresh vote as the best way to clean the slate after the Thuringian CDU aligned with the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany, or AfD, earlier this week to elect a new state premier, triggering a political firestorm.

But Kramp-Karrenbauer faced a room of angry lawmakers from her party in a five-hour meeting that ended early on Friday in the state capital Erfurt, ending in a standoff as they refused to back a new election. Their leader said she had caused “irritation” among the group.

Merkel Party Chief Faces Deepening Divide Over Far Right Episode

The tumultuous political events triggered by the CDU’s flirtation with the far right has laid bare rogue elements in the party and the eroding ability of Kramp-Karrenbauer to assert authority. The CDU leader and Merkel will hold talks on Saturday with their Social Democratic coalition partner, which has derided the party’s maneuver in the shock vote on Wednesday.

Following consultations with the CDU leadership back in Berlin, Kramp-Karrenbaur said that “a whole series of mistakes” were made in the Thuringia affair, but put most of the blame on local lawmakers who acted “against the clear recommendation of the national party.”

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Mainstream parties in the current legislature now needed to find common ground to choose a new premier without the help of the far right, she added.

“There can be no cooperation with the AfD, directly or indirectly,” Kramp-Karrenbauer told reporters in Berlin on Friday. She expected the Greens and the Social Democrats to “present a candidate that doesn’t split but unite the country.”

AKK, as she is widely known, said the ball was now in the court of the Social Democrats.

While she said her stance got unanimous support from the top leadership body, rivals in her ranks have also been quick to point out her flaws.

“It’s clear that nothing worked,” CDU Deputy Chairman Armin Laschet said in an interview on ARD television. The leadership “should have known what would happen there,” he said in reference to the party headquarters.

The head of the CDU youth organization, Tilman Kuban, also weighed in, telling ARD that the party “needs a leadership that is clear, that has a clear stance, a clear message, and is able to exert pressure.”

The risks for the CDU were clear in a Forsa poll that showed Merkel’s party in Thuringia falling almost 10 percentage points to 12% since the October election. The AfD was little changed at 24%.

The fallout reverberated across the political spectrum. Christian Lindner, the chairman of the Free Democrats, whose candidate in Thuringia was elected with the help of the CDU and AfD, was forced to call a confidence vote in his party. While he got the backing from most of the members of the central committee, Lindner continued to field questions over his leadership and acknowledged that he had underestimated the AfD.

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