The leader of Germany's right-wing populist party has indicated she may step down after an embarrassing dip in national polls. The AfD is set to select its candidate for chancellor in a few weeks' time.
The nationalist Alternative for Germany (AfD) may have a new face to lead it through the 2017 federal election campaign, according to media reports on Thursday. In an interview with Berlin daily "Tagesspiegel," party chief Frauke Petry hinted that she may step down from politics amidst rumors of growing discontent with her leadership.
"Neither politics nor the AfD are the only alternatives," said Petry, in a preview of a fuller profile to be published Friday. Her reasons were not, it seemed, frustration with slipping poll numbers as Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) reclaimed some of its traditional territory to the right of the center.
No, Petry said, she was simply reaching her personal and professional limits: "After more than four years in the AfD, I've expended a huge amount of energy and made a departure from my regular life."
Before helping party founder Bernd Lücke (whom the party ousted in her favor nearly two years ago) get the party off the ground in 2013, Petry was a chemist and businesswoman. After moving into politics, Petry separated from her husband and father of her four children, and has steered the party on a course of increasingly controversial national-conservatism.
Her strategy of emphasizing anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant policies was at first a boon to the AfD. Even in the aftermath of scandals including statements from prominent members downplaying the Holocaust, support continued to grow, and the party easily crossed the five-percent election threshold required to enter a number of new state parliaments.
CDU reclaims the right
The CDU had been moving increasingly to the center over the past four years, which is partly the result of a grand coalition with the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), and Merkel's refugee policy. However, as September's election approaches, the chancellor and her party have distanced themselves from the SPD, for example by backing down from the idea of introducing dual citizenship, to surprisingly swift results. In the first test of the CDU's new direction, at regional elections in the state of Saarland last Sunday, the CDU jumped five percent in poll numbers from the last election and captured the most seats in the legislature.
The AfD, on the other hand, garnered only about six percent of the vote, enough to enter Saarland's parliament but humiliating in comparison to the much larger numbers it scored in regional elections last year.
AfD official: Petry trying to blackmail party members
Petry insisted, however, that the anger directed at her over this defeat would not be the reason for her possible resignation. Politics should never be taken personally, or "you won't last long," she told Tagesspiegel.
Speaking to the daily later on Thursday, Petry's deputy Alexander Gauland criticized her comments as "not well thought through," and said he "didn't take it too seriously." She belongs in the party, Gauland added. One anonymous high-ranking party official was more harsh, calling it "blackmail," a clear attempt to gather support and sympathy ahead of a key party meeting.
The AfD is set to choose its candidate for chancellor at its party convention in the western city of Cologne at the end of April.