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Germany's far-right AfD slides further rightward

Rina Goldenberg
May 25, 2021

The German far-right party Alternative for Germany has chosen two staunch anti-immigrant hard-liners to lead it into this year's general election. This is a heavy defeat for the more moderate wing of the party.

Deutschland Wahlkampf l AfD stellt Spitzenduo vor  - Alice Weidel und Tino Chrupalla
Image: Kay Nietfeld/dpa/picture alliance

AfD chooses its leadership duo

Four months ahead of the next federal election, Germany's biggest opposition party, the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), has chosen its top candidates for the campaign.

The victors were Alice Weidel and Tino Chrupalla, both of whom are sitting members of parliament. Party members elected the pair with a resounding 71% of the vote share, giving a boost to the more radical far-right forces in the party.

Germany's AfD meets in Dresden

Cold shoulder from party leader

Cracks are again beginning to show in the upper ranks of the AfD, the far-right party founded only eight years ago on a nationalist and euroskeptic platform, which has since been amended to emphasize anti-immigration policies.

Weidel and Chrupalla were not the preferred choices of party leader Jörg Meuthen, a member of the European Parliament, who had been promoting more moderate lead candidates for the campaign. His plan failed miserably.

Jörg Meuthen speaking at a party conference on April 10 in Dresden
Party co-chair Jörg Meuthen opposes the radical extreme right forces in his partyImage: Revierfoto/dpa/picture alliance

At a press conference after their nomination had been announced, Weidel and Chrupalla spoke in relaxed tones, called their nomination a great success, and said they saw the AfD now back on track after months of power struggles. The two explained that their main focus was now the fight against coronavirus mitigation measures imposed by the federal government.

"The lockdown is completely excessive," said Weidel, an economist. She warned of Germany's economic decline. She also chose to lash out at the Green party, which is currently leading in the polls, accusing them of intending to lead the country into communism with their climate and energy policies.

Chrupalla invoked the importance of the German middle class. He himself is a craftsman and has warned against small businesses being squeezed amid the economic downturn. The 46-year-old from Saxony joined the AfD in 2015 because of its anti-immigration platform.

He attracted significant criticism in 2020 after the global anti-racism movement sparked by the murder of unarmed Black man George Floyd at the hands of a white police officer. Chrupalla tweeted about the Black Lives Matter protests, warning that the unrest showed how multiracial societies were doomed and how Germany needed to avoid such a development.

More recently, Chrupalla has been advocating more moderate language — drastic messages would put off women voters, he said.

Weidel, who hails from western Germany, joined the AfD in 2013 and has held a high party office for several years. The openly gay co-head of the party in parliament opposes same-sex marriage, although she herself raises two children with her partner, who is of Sri Lankan origin. Weidel has been embroiled in a scandal over the false declaration of party finances and has more recently faced inner-party criticism for not pulling her weight in the regional election campaign for her home state of Baden-Württemberg.

At Tuesday's press conference, Chrupalla and Weidel were not big on the details of what exactly they want to change.

The AfD has no chance of playing a part in the German government after September's federal elections. The AfD strongly opposes all other parties — which, in turn, are unified against the far-right party.

Opinion poll from early May puts the AfD at over 10% of the vote
Opinion polls put the AfD at over 10% of the vote

Support from extreme-right 'Wing' faction

The nomination of  Weidel and Chrupalla is a victory for the AfD's radical fringe. For months, the extreme faction of the party, called "the Wing," has been under investigation by the German domestic intelligence service. A report by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution collected some 1,000 pages of evidence on the anti-constitutional nature of the "Wing," which has since been formally dissolved.

Now, it seems that moderates around party co-chair Jörg Meuthen are on the retreat. "The outlook for party leader Meuthen has become worse," political scientist Frank Decker said on the Phoenix television station. "He has to expect that he will not survive in office at the next party conference." However, that will not take place until after the Bundestag elections in September.

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Against immigration, gender sensitivity and Islam

The AfD is calling for a radical restructuring of German society: The party wants to severely limit immigration and believes that citizenship should once again be dependent on a person's origin.

The party wants funding cut for numerous projects that fight racism or support a modern understanding of gender. The AfD also doubts the reality of human-made climate change and wants Germany to continue to rely on coal and nuclear energy, both of which have been significantly reduced in recent decades. The party rejects the EU and has called for Germany to leave the bloc.

Weidel and Chrupalla said their main opponents in the election were Chancellor Angela Merkel's center-right Christian Democrats. Their election goal, they said, is to become stronger than the center-left Social Democrats, who are currently struggling.

The AfD is currently polling at around 11% of likely voters.

Hans Pfeifer contributed to this report.

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