Senior members of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party have launched an attack against their leader Bernd Lucke. It's the latest sign of a power struggle in the AfD - a party that has recently shaken German politics.
In a letter obtained by media on Saturday, several of the AfD's leading officials called on Bernd Lucke (pictured above) to shelve his plans to take sole control of the upstart euroskeptic party's leadership. Lucke, the face of the party and its founder, currently serves as chair with two others - Frauke Petry and Konrad Adam.
In the three-page letter, the senior party members summoned Lucke to a meeting, and said they were alarmed by his plans, his "despot-like style of leadership" and said his behavior resembled a "lord of the manor."
"We're writing to you because we're worried about party unity," they wrote. "It is no longer only 'your' party as you keep calling it, but a party of thousands. We want you to be ... one of three equal leaders."
According to media reports, the signatories of the letter include the party co-chairs Petry and Adam, Brandenburg state chief Alexander Gauland and MEPs Beatrix von Storch and Marcus Pretzell.
Lucke founded the AfD in 2013 in a small town in Hesse, central Germany, and the party first began to attract attention with its opposition to Chancellor Angela Merkel's eurozone policies and bailouts for indebted eurozone countries. More recently the party has campaigned on an anti-immigration platform, which got the attention of far-right voters.
In 2014, the AfD shocked the main parties when it took seven of Germany's 96 seats in the European Parliament, and won seats in three state assemblies - Saxony, Brandenburg and Thuringia - mainly at the expense of Merkel's Christian Democratic Union.
Tensions within the AfD party leadership have been stewing for weeks, with Lucke trying to prevent the party drifting further to the right, and co-chairs Petry and Adam eager to attract more far-right voters. In the letter, they express a desire to see the party open up to "people who fear an Islamic infiltration" and those who question "the influence of US banks on politics or German sovereignty."
The document is the most recent indication of divisions between the three party leaders, and may be seen as something of a godsend to Merkel's conservatives, who would have been hoping the movement would self-destruct.
Lucke has not responded to the letter, but his spokesman Christian Lüth told news agency Reuters that he would "not comment on its contents because it is an internal party matter."
Lucke had called on regional AfD leaders to meet him to discuss his plans to change the party's charter to allow him to lead on his own, ahead of a party congress scheduled for January 31. The letter-writers attacked this as a sneaky move.
"You're not going to build confidence with threats," they said. "How effective can a threat like that be if it comes from a chairman acting on his own?"
Deputy AfD chairman Hans-Olaf Henkel has indicated that he would support Lucke in his bid to secure sole party leadership. In an interview with the German newspaper Tagesspiegel am Sonntag, he said the current model with three leaders "had not proven sustainable" and was damaging the party's image.
"The cacophony of recent weeks is the proof that Lucke is right," he said. "No orchestra has three conductors, no soccer team has three coaches."
nm/se (Reuters, AFP, dpa)