Berlin, Germany: German chancellor candidate Armin Laschet, the frontrunner in the race to succeed Angela Merkel, sparked outrage Saturday after he was caught on camera laughing during a visit to a flood-ravaged town.
The footage shows Laschet chatting and joking with several people in the background while President Frank-Walter Steinmeier gives a statement to public television expressing sympathy for flood victims in the hard-hit town of Erftstadt.
At one point in the widely shared clip, Laschet bursts out laughing for several seconds.
“Laschet laughs while the country cries,” the best-selling Bild daily said on its website.
Commentators and politicians were quick to condemn Laschet on social media.
“I’m speechless,” tweeted Lars Klingbeil, secretary-general of the center-left Social Democrats, who govern together with Merkel and Laschet’s conservative CDU/CSU bloc.
“This is all apparently a big joke to (Laschet),” wrote Maximilian Reimers from the far-left Die Linke opposition party. “How could he be a chancellor?”
There was no immediate comment from Laschet’s spokespeople contacted by AFP.
The controversy comes just days after Laschet was widely panned for admonishing a female reporter and calling her “young lady” during a tense back and forth about the link between the deadly floods and climate change.
“Excuse me, young lady, you don’t change policies just because of one day like this,” said Laschet, who is the premier of North-Rhine Westphalia state (NRW), one of the two German regions hit hardest by the worst flooding in living memory.
Germany has counted more than 140 lives lost since Wednesday, while neighboring Luxembourg, Belgium, and the Netherlands have also been affected by the heavy storms.
Erftstadt in NRW has seen some of the worst devastations after the extreme rainfall triggered a landslide in the town, destroying several houses and streets.
“I grew up in Erftstadt,” tweeted Olav Waschkies. “The behavior of our state premier is unacceptable and unforgivable.”