Setting the tone of more conflictual parliamentary sessions in the next four years, Alternative for Germany (AfD) was first off the mark in filing a motion to challenge a change in parliamentary rules that thwarted one of its lawmakers from making the opening speech in the lower house.
As the motion was immediately defeated by the rest of the lawmakers, the AfD’s parliamentary group chief Bernd Baumann drew a comparison to top Nazi Hermann Göring’s move in 1933 to block communist leader Clara Zetkin from opening the sitting.
The quip drew gasps from the floor and was slammed as “tasteless” by Marco Büschmann of the liberal FDP party.
The same fate as the defeated motion awaited their nominee, Albrecht Glaser, 75, for one of the six parliamentary vice presidents. In the first round of voting, Glaser got only 115 votes – far short of the 355 needed to gain that post.
Glaser has courted controversy by classifying Islam as a political ideology and asserting that Muslims had forfeited their right to freedom of religion, as Islam did not respect that freedom.
The center-left Social Democrats (SPD), the Greens, the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) and the Left Party have said Glaser is not suited to serve as one of former Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble’s deputies. Schäuble will lead the new parliament as its president.
Before the parliamentary vote, the leader of the SPD parliamentary party, Andrea Nahles told German public broadcaster ZDF that Glaser would not adequately uphold the values of Germany’s Basic Law. The AfD insists that Glaser’s remarks do conform to it.
Bundestag vice presidents chair sessions, set the agenda and call lawmakers to order where necessary. Normally each party in parliament is allowed to name at least one vice president. The vice presidents of the other parties were elected without incident.
Who makes up the new Bundestag?
The opposition to Glaser’s nomination is a first taste of the clashes likely to occur as the AfD tries pushing its widely anti-immigration, anti-Islam and anti-euro agenda in the parliament.
If Glaser fails to be elected in three rounds on Tuesday, voting will be postponed. However, parliamentary business can continue unhindered even if the AfD is unable to get Glaser elected or unwilling to name an alternative candidate.
But that flare-up appeared to be a harbinger of future Bundestag sittings, as the AfD’s leading figures have repeatedly smashed taboos by staking claims to German identity and challenging Germany’s culture of atonement over World War II and the Holocaust.
“Take note: the old Bundestag has been voted out. The people have decided, a new era begins now,” said Baumann.
“From this hour on, the issues will be renegotiated — not your manoeuvres and tricks on parliamentary business but the euro, massive debt, enormous immigration numbers, open borders and brutal criminality in our streets,” he vowed.
But beyond the AfD, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s former coalition partner, the Social Democratic Party, also took on a combative tone as it took its seats on the opposition benches.
In the party’s first speech at the house, senior SPD lawmaker Carsten Schneider hit out at Merkel, saying she is “the reason that we have a right-wing populist party here”.
The frontal attack was met with shock by Merkel’s CDU party, with general secretary Peter Tauber condemning it on Twitter, saying “First shenanigans not coming from the AfD, but from the elderly aunt SPD. How low has she sunk!”
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