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Petry won't stand as lead AfD candidate in German vote

Jefferson Chase
April 20, 2017

For many Germans, Frauke Petry is the face of right-wing populism in the country. But she announced on Wednesday that she's not interested in being her party's nominal chancellor candidate in September's election.

Deutschland Frauke Petry, AfD
Image: Getty Images/AFP/J. MacDougall

Frauke Petry, the co-chairwoman and most recognizable figure of the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD), dropped the latest of her patented bombshells on Wednesday via video on her facebook page.

"To end all the speculation in this area, I would like to take the opportunity in this video message to declare unambiguously that I am not available for a lead candidacy on my own nor for participation in a lead team," Petry said.

Petry also said that it was unclear whether a party like the AfD, which will likely end up in the hands of the opposition, needed a "largely symbolic" lead candidate. She added that this was one issue to be decided at this weekend's AfD conference in Cologne.

Petry made her surprise decision amidst reports that she was becoming increasingly isolated, after making an official "proposal for the future" that the party should agree on a binding strategy for Germany's national election on September 24. Her announcement could well launch another struggle for power within a party that has seen more than its fair share of leadership squabbles

Deutschland PK Frauke Petry und Björn Höcke
Petry and Björn Höcke embody two different wings of the partyImage: picture-alliance/dpa/R. Jensen

Read more: All you need to know about the German Elections 2017

A split with the hardliners

Many people on the right wing of the AfD feel that Petry is too mainstream and power-hungry - that she is willing to compromise on the more aggressive anti-immigration, anti-EU elements of the populist movement in a bid not to scare off more moderate voters.

In her video statement, Petry disputed being a divisive force.

"Dear delegates, my proposal for our party conference in Cologne has raised quite a stir and created a lot of wild speculation the past few days," Petry said in her 12-minute message. "Critics of the proposal accuse me of splitting the AfD into two camps. Others fear that a democratic decision about a common strategy would exclude parts of the party and different positions. The absurd assertion that I'm interested in a coalition with the CDU has no basis whatsoever in reality."

Petry added that the AfD had suffered from the lack of an overarching strategy since the fall of 2015, when the party achieved its first major successes in local state elections. She said that the party's potential voters had sunk from 30 percent in 2015 to 14 percent now.

She said the party's public image was conditioned by the statements of individuals aiming at "maximum provocation." She acknowledged that differences of opinion about whether the party should strive for power, or be part of the opposition had led to "increasing internal tensions."

In recent months, Petry has been engaged in a high-profile feud with the head of the AfD in Thuringia- Björn Höcke- whom she would like to see banned from the party for alleged Nazi sympathies.

Frauke Petry, Parteitag der Sachsen-AfD in Weinböhla
Petry has faced considerable pressure from both inside and outside the partyImage: picture-alliance/dpa/O. Killig

A hidden agenda?

Petry's statement portrays her as someone willing to subordinate personal ambition for the good of the party. In her video message, she repeatedly claimed that individual party members pursuing individual interests had damaged the AfD's credibility with mainstream voters.

But there is certainly more to Petry's decision than just self-sacrifice. For the one thing, the 41-year-old is in an advanced state of pregnancy, which may be a factor given the strains of the campaign's final stages. Petry recently burst into tears at an event after facing criticism from detractors.

Significantly, Petry did not say that she was stepping down from her position as party co-chair. In the past, the trained chemist has seemed to retreat only to beat her rivals in contests for power at AfD party events. Such was the case, for instance, at a party conference in Essen in July 2015 when she outmaneuvered one of the AfD's co-founders to become its co-chair.

Petry's latest move throws wide open the question of who will determine the strategy for the party's election campaign. That will be something the AfD must sort out at this weekend's convention.