22nd Mar 2018

Alternative for Germany party refuses to shun extreme right

  • Alexander Gauland (l) will be one of the leaders of the AfD party's election campaign. He's supported by MEP Beatrix von Storch (r) (Photo: Reuters)

The anti-EU, anti-Islam party Alternative fuer Deutschland (Alternative for Germany, AfD) rejected discussing a motion that aimed to move the party away from the extreme right at a party conference on Sunday (23 April).

The conference held in Cologne saw the party's co-leader, Frauke Petry, suffer a public defeat, media reported, bringing back memories of how she once came to power during an earlier display of public in-fighting.

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AfD delegates did not want to discuss a motion put forward by Petry that would aim to move the party more into the mainstream, and open up to the possibility of forming coalitions with other parties.

They also did not want to vote on a motion that would declare that there is “no place” in the AfD for racist, anti-Semitic, or nationalistic ideologies.

The conference elected two of its members to lead the campaign up to German parliamentary elections on 24 September, after Petry said last week that she would relinquish that role.

AfD delegates chose the 76-year-old co-founder of the party, Alexander Gauland, and 38-year-old Alice Weidel, a former Goldman Sachs banker.

Gauland has been quoted as calling the protesters of the xenophobic Pegida movement “natural allies” of AfD.

The Cologne event marks another dramatic turn in the four-year history of the party, which hopes to be represented in national politics for the first time after this year's elections.

The AfD was founded in 2013 as an anti-euro party, but quickly discussions rose about the direction of the party, especially whether it should embrace an anti-immigrant, anti-Islam stance.

Just two years after its inception, co-founder Bernd Lucke left the party after a power struggle between him and Petry. Lucke said he left because AfD had become “Islamophobic and xenophobic”.

Later in 2015, a rupture appeared between the seven AfD members who had been elected in the European Parliament the year before.

Five of those members left the AfD to begin their own party. Last year, the remaining two left the overlapping European Conservatives and Reformists group.

But while AfD MEP Beatrix von Storch joined the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy group – which is dominated by the British Ukip and Italian Five Star Movement of comedian Beppe Grillo – her AfD colleague Marcus Pretzell joined the Europe of Nations and Freedom of French far right party National Front.

On Sunday, Pretzell also distanced himself from the national AfD party. Pretzell, since last year married to Petry, said he would take the party's regional department in North Rhine Westphalia to a different direction.

Von Storch meanwhile supported the new duo, Gauland and Weidel.

Previous in-fighting has had a negative effect on the party's success in opinion polls, and it already lost some (virtual) support compared to the last two years, when it enjoyed popularity during the refugee crisis.

Its best showing so far was in the 2016 state elections in Saxony-Anhalt, where it won 24.3 percent. Though, in the most recent state election, in Saarland, it won 6.2 percent.

Most polls now say AfD will win around 10 percent, which can still make the party the number three nationwide, but keeps it far away from the 65 percent that the two main centre-left and centre-right parties are expected to take up.

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