Frauke Petry, the leader of the right-wing Alternative for Germany, removed a candidate from the AfD's list in the 2014 Saxony elections. Now, two legal experts are saying the results of that vote should be voided.
The August 31, 2014, regional elections in Saxony represented a breakthrough for the Alternative for Germany (AfD). The anti-EU, anti-immigration party, which had only been formed the previous year, entered the state parliament after taking 9.7 percent of the vote.
One AfD member who should have received a mandate was the entrepreneur Arvid Samtleben, but two months before the elections, the party's regional leadership, steered by Frauke Petry, now the national chairwoman, removed him from its list of candidates. That was a violation of the rules requiring German parties to operate democratically, a pair of legal experts told Der Spiegel magazine for an article published on Saturday.
"The regional election committee should have rejected the entire AfD candidate list," Sophie Schönberger, a professor of law at the University of Konstanz, told Der Spiegel. "A candidate's being removed for political reasons by the party leadership is a clear violation of the democratic imperative within political parties."
Martin Morlok, legal professor at the University of Düsseldorf, told Der Spiegel that Samtleben's removal was "unconstitutional": "There's no way around new elections."
The electoral investigations committee of the Saxony parliament has looked into this potential violation for two years without being able - or willing - to settle the matter. The Spiegel article, however, may have consequences for both the state of Saxony and the woman at the center of controversy.
The Saturday edition of the online edition of news weekly Die Zeit, for instance, asks: "Will Saxony have to vote again because of Petry?"
Possibility of perjury
The AfD's 2014 electoral success, coming after Petry asserted herself as the boss of the party in Saxony, was a major step in her rise to national prominence. Ironically, it could now prove to be her undoing.
Saxony is unlikely to stage new elections, which would not be in the interest of any of the major parties. The governing grand coalition of the CDU and SPD, already reeling from the police custody suicide of suspected terrorist Jaber Albakr, would almost certainly lose popular support. And, despite attracting more than 20 percent support in the latest opinion polls, the AfD wouldn't want a fresh election at the price of the loss of credibility of its most recognizable national leader.
But that doesn't mean that Petry is out of the woods. After his removal from the list of candidates, Samtleben claimed that he had been punished for his opposition to candidates' being required to lend money to the AfD in Saxony - a practice tantamount to selling mandates.
In November 2015, Petry testified to the Saxony electoral investigations committee that this had not been the case, but contradictions emerged between her testimony and that of other AfD politicians. Since May 2016, the prosecutor's office in Dresden has been investigating whether Petry perjured herself.
Were Petry to be found guilty of perjury, she could face a jail term of up to a year and would be ineligible to participate in Germany's national elections, scheduled for next September. Polls suggest that the AfD could take as much as 15 percent of that vote, which perhaps helps explain why Spiegel would be interested in stirring up trouble for Petry,
Petry's rise within the AfD has coincided with the party's shift from its original emphasis on skepticism about the European Union to an anti-immigration nationalism that many critics have labeled racist.
At the AfD's convention in July 2015, Petry wrested control of the party away from a more moderate wing and succeeded in getting herself elected as its primary press spokeswoman. Deutschlandfunk radio and many other media sources interpreted the outcome of the conference as a "lurch to the right" for the AfD. And since then Petry has issued no shortage of incendiary remarks that confirm that view.
Petry has been repeatedly quoted as saying that it is legitimate to use violence at Germany's borders to prevent migrants from entering the country. In an interview with the newspaper Die Welt in September, she came out in favor of rehabilitating a racist Nazi term. And, in a speech marking the Day of German Unity on October 4, she attacked refugees and migrants as "an Afro-Arab lumpenproletariat" and called for Germany to end its relatively welcoming asylum policy for displaced people.
"What should we think of all these 'Germany is multicolored' campaigns?" Petry told an audience at a AfD event in Stuttgart. "A compost heap is also multicolored."
Those statements were condemned by politicians across Germany's political spectrum, but it's such expressions of xenophobic hostility that have helped the AfD take over 20 percent and 14 percent of the vote, respectively, in recent regional elections in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Berlin.
Petry would like to reproduce those results on the national level in 2017, which is why her detractors are unlikely to drop the controversy surrounding her first major electoral success.