Germany's far-left makes historic debut at state helm

Bodo Ramelow (second right) of the Left party (Die Linke) is congratulated by Christine Lieberknecht, former state premier of Thuringia, after succeeding her, in parliament in Erfurt on Dec 5, 2014. Germany's far-left took the helm of a state as
Bodo Ramelow (second right) of the Left party (Die Linke) is congratulated by Christine Lieberknecht, former state premier of Thuringia, after succeeding her, in parliament in Erfurt on Dec 5, 2014. Germany's far-left took the helm of a state assembly Friday for the first time since the Berlin Wall fell, heading a coalition that will be closely watched for signs of the party's future national role. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

BERLIN (AFP) - Germany's far-left took the helm of a state assembly Friday for the first time since the Berlin Wall fell, heading a coalition that will be closely watched for signs of the party's future national role.

Regional lawmakers approved Bodo Ramelow, 58, of the Linke party, which is a successor to the former communist East's ruling party, in a second-round vote as premier of eastern Thuringia state.

The outcome of the secret ballot had been uncertain as the Linke and its left-leaning coalition partners, the Social Democrats and Greens, together have just one seat more than the conservatives and anti-euro AfD.

Applause erupted in the regional parliament in the city of Erfurt when Ramelow, a trade unionist who hails from western Germany, was confirmed as premier with an absolute majority of 46 votes and immediately sworn in.

The Linke, which translates as The Left, traditionally fares well in the former east and has already regularly participated in regional governments there as a junior partner.

But in a country with painful memories of the former communist dictatorship in the East, Ramelow's rise to power has fuelled heated debate about his anti-capitalist and staunchly pacifist party, set up in 2007.

German President Joachim Gauck, a former dissident Lutheran pastor from the East, broke the neutrality of his office to say recently that people who lived under communism "find it quite hard to accept this".

On the eve of the vote, around 2,000 people protested against the Linke-led alliance outside the regional parliament, some shouting "Stasi out", referring to the communist East's feared secret police.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats had ruled Thuringia since Germany's reunification in 1990 and won the largest share of the vote in regional elections in September.

But their Social Democratic Party coalition allies opted to throw in their lot with the Linke and the environmentalist Greens after the ballot to form a "red-red-green" alliance, as it is known in the colour-coded shorthand of German politics.