The euroskeptic political party Alternative for Germany has gathered for a convention to elect its future leadership. The contest pits the two current co-leaders - and bitter rivals - against each other.
Alternative for Germany (AfD) co-leader and founder Bernd Lucke was frequently booed during his speech to open the party convention in Essen on Saturday, with the bulk of the heckling coming from supporters of his bitter rival and co-leader, Frauke Petry. Since the party's founding convention in 2013, they have been two of its three co-chairs, along with Konrad Adam.
For the past few months, Lucke, who wants to take the party in a liberal, pro-business direction, has been at loggerheads with Petry, who is seeking to steer the AfD further to the right.
This weekend's two-day convention, in which every member of the fledgling party has a vote, is meant to settle the issue once and for all. However, before the estimated 3,000 party members gathered in Essen can decide on who will lead the AfD in future, they will have to decide on what they want the structure of its leadership to be. One option is to continue to go on with three co-chairs, but Lucke, who in the past has ruled out continuing to work with Petry, is pushing for a new structure, with a chairperson and a deputy.
Red cards for Lucke
During his opening speech, Lucke appealed to AfD members in both camps to put their differences behind them for the good of the party, but soccer-style red cards held up by members of the Petry camp appeared to indicate that the cracks would not easily be papered over.
Petry, who said earlier that she was prepared to continue working with Lucke if they were both elected again, said the membership would have to choose between two different visions for the party.
"Whether we see ourselves primarily as an opposition party in which we must mature or develop politically; or whether with a small number of followers we essentially become the engineers of a majority for a large party."
Petry declared that in her view, Lucke belonged to the latter camp. "I do not share this opinion, and I also believe that the majority of AfD members do not share it either," she said.
She also rejected a charge that the AfD had not done enough to curb right-wing tendencies within the party.
As delegates arrived outside of the conference hall, they were met by a few dozen demonstrators, some holding placards calling for more support for refugees arriving in Germany.
The AfD has emerged as a minor player in German politics since it was founded two years ago, having won seats in five state assemblies and the European Parliament. It is currently polling at around 5 percent support.
pfd/sms (dpa, AFP, Reuters)