The former head of Germany's AfD party has announced he is withdrawing completely from the party he helped found. It comes a few days after he failed to win re-election as the party's leader.
Bernd Lucke announced on Wednesday that he would leave the AfD (Alternative für Deutschland, "Alternative for Germany") on Friday, along with other members of the party, some of whom are among the party's higher-ranking officials.
Citing the party's drift away from the "original liberal and open view of the AfD," Lucke said he did not see any further possibility to remain in the party without being "misused as a figurehead for political beliefs that I wholeheartedly reject."
Lucke's written statement said this referred to the "anti-Islamic and anti-immigration views" that were increasingly being adopted by the party.
The AfD has become deeply divided between opposing wings: the free-market liberals united in their opposition to Brussels' economic policies; and the national conservatives trying to move voters on issues like immigration, cross-border crime and national identity. This year's conference was expected to culminate in a clash for leadership of the party.
Lucke belongs to the liberal wing of the party and does not identify with what he sees as a new direction of the party.
'Fallen into the wrong hands'
At the AfD party convention over the weekend, Lucke lost his spot as one of the party's chairpersons. That role was given to Frauke Petry, one of Lucke's competitors within the party.
Lucke had declared before the vote that he would not apply for the position of the party's deputy head. This made Petry the only office-bearing politician in the party leadership, with no one to handle her position in her absence. According to Lucke, the party had fallen "irrevocably into the wrong hands" after the conference over the weekend.
Lucke said he found it difficult to leave the party because there are "still many loyal and endearing members whose political views cannot be criticized and who have tirelessly fought for the founding principles of the AfD."
He was also critical of what he called disproportional criticism of the United States from within the party, while he noted that Russian policies were vehemently defended.
The AfD was founded in 2013 as an anti-EU force on Germany's political landscape, formed as Greece and other countries' finances were in sharp focus. The party just missed the "5-percent hurdle" parties must clear for guaranteed representation in Germany's national parliament, but has since won seats in five regional parliaments and in the European Parliament.
With regard to his political future, Lucke mentioned that many current AfD members were calling for a fresh start and were organizing themselves under the website www.neustart2015.de (new start 2015). Lucke added, however, that it was unclear if this would "really lead to a revival of the founding AfD."
mz/kms (dpa, Reuters)