German political crisis in Thuringia and Italian regional elections

At the October 2019 Thuringian state election, the far-left Left party won 29 of the 90 seats, the far-right AfD 22, the conservative CDU 21, the centre-left SPD eight, the Greens five and the pro-business FDP five. As covered here, the FDP barely entered parliament, just beating the 5% threshold.

With 46 seats needed for a majority, the former Left/SPD/Green government was unable to continue with only 42 combined seats. But alternative governments also appeared unviable as the CDU would not work with the Left. Any government that did not involve the Left would have needed the AfD’s support, but the AfD has been frozen out by all other German parties.

At the February 5 opening of parliament, Left leader Bodo Ramelow announced he would attempt to lead a minority government. The state president is elected by a secret ballot of MPs. The first two votes require an absolute majority of all MPs (46 votes). If this threshold is not met, a third vote is first-past-the-post.

Ramelow easily won the first two votes against the AfD’s candidate, but was short of the 46 required with many abstentions. On the third ballot, FDP leader Thomas Kemmerich entered, and defeated Ramelow by 45 votes to 44.

While it was a secret ballot, it was clear that Kemmerich could not have won without the support of both the CDU and AfD. It is the first time a German state president has been elected with AfD support.

After much condemnation, including from federal CDU Chancellor Angela Merkel, Kemmerich resigned on February 8. A new election is likely to be needed, but a two-thirds majority of the Thuringian parliament is required to approve it. Polls suggest large gains for the Left at the CDU’s expense, and a Left/SPD/Green coalition would likely win an election.

The Thuringian crisis has had federal consequences. Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (AKK) was elected federal CDU leader, replacing Merkel in December 2018, and was expected to run as the CDU’s candidate for chancellor at the next German election. But AKK resigned on February 10, owing to the failure of the Thuringian CDU to heed her calls not to support a government propped up by the AfD. A new CDU leader will need to be elected, and the party could shift to the right.

Since the Thuringian crisis, there has been a slight dip for the CDU/CSU and a slight rise for the Greens in German federal polling. The AfD and SPD are unchanged, while there has been a rise for the Left and a fall for the FDP. Current standings are about 27% CDU/CSU, 22% Greens, 14% AfD, 13% SPD, 9% Left and 8% FDP.

Italian regional elections: left holds Emilia-Romagna, but right gains Calabria

Italian regional elections were held in Emilia-Romagna and Calabria on January 26. In Emilia-Romagna, the left-wing candidate for president defeated the far-right candidate by a 51.4-43.6 margin, with just 3.5% for the Five Star Movement’s candidate. Since 2014, the left vote was up 2.4%, the right vote up 11.4% and the Five Stars down 9.8%. This region was considered an important hold for the left as it has been governed by the left since World War 2.

In Calabria, the right crushed the left by a 55-30 margin; this was a 23% swing to the right and a 31% drop for the left since 2014.

Latest federal Italian polling has the far-right League just above 30%, followed by the centre-left Democrats at over 20%, the Five Stars at 14%, the far-right Brothers of Italy (FdI) at 12% and the conservative Forza Italia at 7%. Since the Five Stars joined a governing coalition with the Democrats in August 2019, their polling has slid, with the Democrats and FdI the main beneficiaries. Previously, the Five Stars governed with the League.

Centre-left wins in Taiwan

At the January 11 Taiwanese presidential election, centre-left incumbent president Tsai Ing-wen crushed her conservative challenger by a 57.1-38.6 margin. Since the 2016 election, this was a 1.0% increase for Tsai and a 7.6% increase for the Kuomintang party’s candidate.