Bavaria leader refrains from dismissing 'antisemitic' deputy
Bavaria's leader, Markus Söder, opts not to remove his deputy, Hubert Aiwanger, amid a high-profile antisemitic leaflet scandal.
The Minister-President of the German state of Bavaria, Markus Söder, has made a decision not to dismiss his deputy, Hubert Aiwanger, despite a controversy surrounding an antisemitic leaflet that Aiwanger admitted to carrying in his school satchel during his teenage years.
This move comes as a relief to the ruling coalition in the southern state, just six weeks ahead of a regional election. Aiwanger, who leads the Free Voters party, a junior coalition partner to the Christian Social Union in Bavaria (CSU), had faced significant scrutiny and backlash over the discovery of Nazi pamphlets in his schoolbag dating back to the late 1980s.
Söder addressed the situation during a press conference, emphasizing that the decision was not taken lightly. He mentioned that Aiwanger had made regrettable mistakes in his youth but had since distanced himself from Nazis and offered apologies. Söder also noted that there was no evidence implicating Aiwanger in the creation or distribution of the leaflet, with Aiwanger's brother claiming to be the author.
However, Söder did not completely dismiss the issue, saying that Aiwanger should have apologized sooner and urged him to demonstrate further remorse regarding the scandal. Additionally, Söder expressed dissatisfaction with Aiwanger's written responses to a set of government questions on the matter.
Aiwanger, for his part, claimed to have been the target of a failed smear campaign.
The controversy surrounding the leaflet came to light following an investigation by the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper, and Aiwanger's older brother later admitted to being the pamphlet's author, drawing some of the blame off of his sibling.
Controversy opens the door for AfD breakthrough
Saskia Esken, co-leader of Chancellor Olaf Scholz's center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), currently in opposition in Bavaria, emphasized on Monday the importance of maintaining the regional government's reputation, adding that the government should not fall into disrepute.
The decision to retain Aiwanger allows Söder to maintain the coalition government, formed in 2018 ahead of the regional election scheduled for October 8. Recent opinion polls indicate strong support for Söder at 39%, giving him a comfortable lead, with the Free Voters at around 12% in a competitive race against the quickly growing far-right AfD.
Söder dismissed speculation that he might switch partners and form a coalition with the Green party, asserting that there would be "definitely no black and green in Bavaria."
Critics, including German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser, accused Söder of prioritizing political tactics over addressing the issue. Faeser asserted that Aiwanger had not convincingly apologized nor dispelled accusations, portraying himself as a victim.
"That Mr Söder allows this damages the reputation of our country," she added.
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