AfD party leader Petry under pressure

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Frauke Petry is under pressure: This coming weekend, the head of the right-wing populist “Alternative for Germany” could lose the backing of her constituency for the September federal elections. Forces from within the party, namely her own regional chapter, are accusing her of malicious conduct against her internal nemesis, right-wing agitator Björn Höcke, himself head of the party’s division in the state of Thuringia.

In an act of humiliation, members of Petry’s regional chapter in Saxonia are plotting to deprive her of her direct candidacy for the Bundestag (German parliament) on a meeting scheduled for Sunday.

“I consider the whole approach of the regional chapter to be not only wrong, but also politically naive”, commented Uwe Wurlitzer, Secretary General of the AfD affiliate in Saxonia, and a close ally to Petry. It was, after all, the regional chapter, which had elected Petry as a direct candidate in the autumn of 2016, by a margin of 92 percent.

Wurlitzer is concerned. “It’s not only that there is no suitable alternative candidate available. What’s more is that it’s sending a political signal; this is the head of our party we are talking about”, he added.

Should Petry end up losing her local mandate for a direct candidacy, another heavy blow would be dealt to the party, which has been occupied with inner quarrels and power struggles over the past months. According to recent polls, the right-wing populist party has already lost a significant amount of support from voters, with projections dropping from well over ten percent in January to somewhere between five and ten percent today.

Even though Petry is at the top of the list in the state of Saxonia, guaranteeing her a seat in the Bundestag come September, the removal of her direct candidacy would weaken her already difficult position even further. “Withdrawing her candidacy will not only be devastating for the AfD in Saxonia, but in the whole of Germany”, criticised Wurlitzer.

At the core of the AfD’s inner quarrels lies Petry’s effort to exclude far-right agitators from the party, namely Björn Höcke, the most prominent voice of the party’s right wing. Höcke, who continues to be extremely popular within the party, has delivered a number of xenophobia-laden public speeches, which culminated in the infamous Dresden speech of January 2017, in which he criticised the German self-image post 1945, and ambiguously called the Holocaust memorial in Berlin a “monument of shame” (“Denkmal der Schande”).

As it stands, Petry’s efforts to exclude Höcke and other troublemakers, thus steering the party in a more mainstream political direction on the political right, seem to yield no majorities. Quite to the contrary, she suffered yet another humiliating blow in the recent party conference, where her proposal for a strategy change in this direction was met with fierce rejection. Both her fellow party leaders, namely the top candidates Alexander Gauland and Alice Weidel, as well as the AfD’s base, appear to be siding with team Höcke – for the time being.

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