Rivals seek to stop Petry power play as split AfD meets | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 13.08.2016
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Rivals seek to stop Petry power play as split AfD meets

Alternative for Germany boss Frauke Petry faces mounting internal opposition. Sunday's convention will determine how the AfD's power struggles play out. Pressure is growing on the party from outside, as well.

Overall, things are looking good for Alternative for Germany (AfD). Founded in 2013, the party has profited from growing security fears and the dialogue surrounding the asylum policies put in place by German Chancellor Angela Merkel. An additional 1,000 voters joined the AfD's 24,000-strong ranks in the second half of July - a possible reaction to unrelated attacks in Würzburg, Munich and Ansbach, two of which were committed by young men who arrived as refugees. Polls give the party 10 percent.

Despite the good news for the AfD, an internal power struggle has been raging for months. The party was at risk of breaking up in summer 2015, when co-chief Frauke Petry ousted founder Bernd Lucke. This turned off AfD supporters, causing the party's popularity to plummet. It was only after discontent with Merkel's refugee policies began to rise that the AfD was able to grow its numbers again.

Now, Petry faces her own internal challengers: Co-Chairman Jörg Meuthen and the further-right AfD state bosses from Brandenburg and Thuringia, Alexander Gauland and Björn Höcke, respectively. The men hope to check Petry's power and ensure that she doesn't become the AfD's main candidate in the 2017 general elections.

The anti-Semitism situation

A controversy involving an AfD member in Stuttgart has been roiling since early summer. Meuthen and eventually 13 other deputies formed the Alternative for Baden-Württemberg after AfD members failed to vote out the retired doctor Wolfgang Gedeon, who had been called upon to step down following anti-Semitic statements. Petry attempted to mediate, but things went quickly awry: Meuthen unsuccessfully tried to have her banned from the regional parliament.

The struggle in Stuttgart and the possible next steps are on the agenda for Sunday's closed-door convention. No press is allowed, and even the party's top spokesperson is being kept out.

Höcke and Gauland have already spoken out against a future party conference, calling it a distraction and bad for unity in the run-up to next year's national elections. However, Petry seems to feel that the majority of AfD members are standing behind her. She is seeking to model the party on Austria's far-right Freedom Party, which most members seem to support, though Höcke opposes. Staking the party's fortunes to nationalism could scare off voters and push the AfD back toward the 5 percent minimum required for parliamentary representation.

A simple majority vote at the upcoming convention is required to call for a special party conference. That would take place in the fall, after important state elections in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Berlin. The party has double-digit support in Berlin and is polling at near 20 percent in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania - not far behind the Social Democrats (SPD) and Chancellor Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU). A strong showing in these state elections would be a good indicator of things to come in national elections, said Manfred Güllner, the head of the German polling company Forsa.

The threat from the AfD has pushed the CDU rightward, with the ruling party now pushing for measures to restrict migration and keep tabs on refugees. The AfD has accused the CDU of stealing from its platform with the new measures.

The SPD is also trying to win back support that it has lost to the AfD. Merkel's refugee policies have upset voters, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania's SPD state premier Erwin Sellering told Spiegel Online. The chancellor has created the impression that Germany must take in an unlimited number of refugees - and that anyone who opposes that is "labeled a right-wing extremist or idiot," he said.

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