A controversial regional member of the right-wing AfD has stepped down under pressure, but the decision still leaves the party fractured. The case is a major test of unity for the populist party.
The right-wing Alternative for Deutschland (AfD) sought to prevent an internal crisis from splintering the party in the southwestern state of Baden-Württemberg on Tuesday, resulting in a late evening announcement that a controversial local lawmaker would step down over anti-Semitic remarks.
Wolfgang Gedeon, a former doctor and lawmaker in Baden-Württemberg, announced after meeting with AfD leader Frauke Petry late Tuesday that for "party reasons" he was compelled to resign from the state parliamentary group.
The decision to become an independent in the local parliament was taken not only to avert a schism in the local parliamentary group, but "a split in the entire party that has kept it preoccupied for months," Gedeon said.
The announcement that the controversial lawmaker would leave the party came after earlier in the day 13 out of 23 lawmakers in the state, including Jörg Meuthen (pictured above, center), the head of the state parliamentary group and co-chair at the national level, announced they would leave the parliamentary group.
The split erupted after Meuthen led a failed attempt to oust Gedeon over his previous writings and comments downplaying the Holocaust.
Meuthen announced in late June that he would hold a vote to have Gedeon removed from office, and should that gambit fail, he would immediately resign. With 13 votes for Gedeon's ouster and 9 against, the necessary two-thirds majority failed to materialize.
Internal split remains
Petry's office said on Tuesday evening in a statement that Gedeon's departure had averted a schism in the party. In the coming days the party would work to "find its way back to its previous strength and unity," it said.
However, in a sign that the crisis with the AfD is not over, Meuthen stated that a deep split within the party remained. He and 12 other lawmakers would remain in a separate group from the 10 other AfD members who voted with Gedeon "on the side of Anti-Semitism," Meuthen said.
Meuthen said earlier on Tuesday that "anti-Semitism cannot and may not have any place in the AfD."
Founded in 2013 as a euroskeptic protest party, the AfD has seen its polling numbers rise significantly since pivoting towards anti-migrant rhetoric in the wake of Europe's refugee crisis. In a highly controversial decision, the AfD has written in its party manifesto that "Islam has no place in Germany."
The party consistently gets 15 percent support in polls, representing a rising challenge to establishment parties such as the Social Democrats and Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives.
cw/jr (AFP, dpa)