Just over a week after the election in the eastern German state of Thuringia last week, politicians in the centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) have called for their party to be willing to talk with the anti-establishment Alternative for Germany.
CDU bosses in Thuringia previously rejected the idea of coalition talks with the AfD.
But on Monday an open letter signed by 17 local CDU officials and reported on by the Ostthüringer Zeitung, urges the party to start “open-ended talks” with the AfD. They consider it unthinkable that “almost a quarter of the voters” in Thuringia “should remain outside the talks”.
It echoes calls last week from Michael Heym, the deputy head of the Thuringian CDU faction, who had suggested the concept of a coalition between the CDU, the AfD and the pro-business Free Democrats.
“You don't do democracy a favour by alienating a quarter of the electorate,” Heym said after last week's election.
According to the newspaper, the appeal by the CDU officials does not explicitly mention the AfD. However, it suggests that the CDU should be open to talks with the party known for its anti-immigration views, as well as “all democratically elected parties” including the far-left Die Linke, who won the election.
A decision for or against working with a party should only be made after open-ended discussions, the letter said. Among the signatories is CDU state parliament member Jörg Kellner.
The CDU, led by Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer and with Angela Merkel as Chancellor, suffered a humiliating result in the election after it was pushed into third place by the AfD.
The AfD surged into second place with 23.4 percent, more than doubling its share of the vote since the last state election in 2014, while the CDU tumbled down to 21.8 percent, from 33.5 percent in 2014.
It would be extremely controversial for the CDU to cooperate with the AfD and has been previously ruled out at the federal level.
Furthermore, the Thuringia AfD is led by Björn Höcke, who heads a stridently nationalist group called Flügel (the Wing) and has been accused of inflammatory rhetoric. During the campaign, his CDU rival in Thuringia, Mike Mohring, called him a “Nazi”.
However, the CDU is struggling to hold on to disillusioned voters, especially after Merkel’s decision to keep the borders open in 2015 during the height of the refugee crisis. This action moved the party more to the centre.
There's also another debate on the direction of the CDU in Thuringia which would also be a controversial move.
The Left (Die Linke), led by state premier Bodo Ramelow, won the election, scooping 31 percent of the vote. The party wants to lead a coalition, as it had done previously, but it’s proving extremely difficult to find a majority.
The CDU previously ruled out working with the Left, but Thuringia CDU leader Mohring said he was open to talks with the party's local leader Ramelow.
Political Scientist Werner Patzelt previously told The Local if the centre-right CDU worked with the far-left Die Linke party, it would be the “kiss of death” for the CDU.
Meanwhile, SPD Secretary General Lars Klingbeil raised concerns over the letter calling for talks with the AfD.
— Lars Klingbeil ?? (@larsklingbeil) November 4, 2019
He warned that the “firewall to the right” in the CDU was “getting more and more cracks”. He called on CDU party leader Kramp-Karrenbauer to intervene.