Germany’s Merkel fires official following far-right fiasco

German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks during a press conference with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, at the government's Union Buildings in Pretoria, South Africa, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020. Merkel is in South Africa to discuss trade, investment and energy issues with Berlin's largest trading partner in Africa. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Saturday fired a government official whose congratulating of a state governor elected with a far-right party’s help angered Merkel’s coalition partners.

Christian Hirte, a member of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union 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.

Hirte’s departure is the latest fallout from the shock election Wednesday of pro-business politician Thomas Kemmerich as governor of the eastern state of Thuringia. The far-right Alternative for Germany, or AfD, enabled it by supporting him in a vote in the state legislature — as did the regional branch of Merkel’s CDU, 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 announced the day after he was elected that he planned to step down, though it isn’t yet clear when that will happen or whether the state will hold a new election.

Hirte, a deputy leader of the CDU’s Thuringia branch who sits in the national parliament, had congratulated Kemmerich on his “election as a candidate of the center,” tweeting that it showed the state had voted out its previous left-wing government, and making no mention of AfD’s role.

The center-left Social Democrats, Merkel’s junior partners in her often-tense national governing coalition, said Hirte couldn’t stay in his job.

Coalition leaders were meeting Saturday to discuss the Thuringia mess, which has prompted new criticism of the leadership of Merkel’s successor as CDU chairwoman, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer.

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