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Populist AfD debates leadership

August 14, 2016

A leadership row has prompted the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party to gather for crisis talks. Its wrangle coincides with a butt of AfD jibes, Jerome Boateng, being named as Germany's footballer of the year.

Stuttgart Jörg Meuthen und Frauke Petry (r) im Landtag von Baden-Württemberg
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/C. Schmidt

Fifty AfD representatives met in the northern city of Kassel, behind closed doors, Sunday to decide whether to keep their two estranged co-leaders in office or launch a fresh leadership contest, one year ahead of Germany's next general election.

For months, Frauke Petry and Jörg Meuthen (pictured above) have been at odds in verbal exchanges inflamed by injections from party vice chairman Alexander Gauland, a veteran politician once within the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) now led by Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Amid objections within the AfD to a rumored bid by Petry for the overall leadership, Gauland told the "Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger" newspaper on Saturday, that a single top leader was "necessary only when he [stood] as chancellery candidate."

Petry heads the opposition AfD in eastern Saxony state's assembly in Dresden. Meuthen heads a second AfD faction in Baden-Württemberg's Greens-led assembly, formed after he tried to remove a member accused of anti-Semitism, Wolfgang Gedeon.

Gauland heads the opposition AfD in the Brandenburg state assembly in Potsdam.

Two regional elections pending

Polling at 13 percent nationwide, the AfD currently has opposition footholds in eight of Germany's 16 regional assemblies.

Trend-setting state assembly votes, are due next month in Berlin city-state and Mecklenburg-West Pomerania, where Social Democrats (SPD) head regional coalition governments.

Berlin political scientist, Carsten Koschmieder, told the news agency AFP Sunday, that AfD-type ructions would probably cause major damage in other parties, but that potential AfD voters were "relatively little interested in who is fighting whom."

"They are dissatisfied with [federal] government policies, especially on the refugee issue," Koschmeier stressed.

Other parties such as Merkel's conservatives, Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel's Social Democrats, the opposition Greens, Liberals FDP and Left party, would only win back votes by focusing on welfare topics such as affordable rents, Koschmeier said.

Boateng award coincides with AfD meeting

Such potential AfD voters were not even dissuaded, said Koschmeier, by Gauland's comments directed at German national football player Jerome Boateng.

On 3 June, Gaulaud drew criticism across Germany's political spectrum after telling the news magazine "Spiegel" that the public regarded Boateng as a good player, but "they would not want Boateng as a neighbor." Gauland later said he was pointing out the hypocrisy among many members of society about immigration.

Deutschland AfD Gauland Boateng
Gauland (R) confronted by a CDU Boateng supporter in Brandenburg's state assemblyImage: picture-alliance/dpa/R. Hirschberger

Boateng, who has German and Ghanaian family origins, was one of four players listed by the specialist German sport news agency SID in late July as a potential replacement captain of the German national team.

On Sunday, coinciding with the AfD meeting in Kassel, the magazine "Kicker" named Bayern defender Boateng as Germany's best footballer of the year.

The AfD was also widely accused of abusing sport in early July when its other vice chairman and European parliamentarian Beatrix von Storch reacted to Germany's Euro 2016 soccer exit against France, saying in a tweet "perhaps next time a German NATIONALTEAM [German: Nationalmannschaft] should play."

UEFA EURO 2016 - Halbfinale | Frankreich vs. Deutschland
Boateng (R) in action before being injured at Euro 2016Image: Reuters/K. Pfaffenbach

Her tweet was subsequently erased, but she went on to describe Germany's team as "denationalized [entnationalisiert.]"

Petry suggests unnamed islands

On Saturday, Petry told the newspaper "Bild" that rejected applicants, among the more than 1 million asylum seekers who reached Germany last year, should be sent to islands outside Europe "protected by the United Nations." She did not name those locations.

Petry sparked uproar last January at the height of Germany's migrant debate when she said German police could resort to firearms at the border to deter migrants.

Most of the 1 million who have arrived since last year were refugees escaping war and persecution in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Altmaier predicts improvement

At a meeting of Merkel's CDU at Hildesheim in Lower Saxony state on Saturday, her chancellery chief Peter Altmeier backed Merkel's "we can cope" slogan by saying that in sorting out identity issues, Germany would emerge stronger than before.

The roll of the CDU was not to implement populist demands, but to govern responsibly, Altmeier said.

ipj/tj (AFD, dpa, Reuters, SID)

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