Germany’s far-right Alternative for Deutschland party (AfD) has selected its lead candidates to contest for the Chancellorship in elections later this year. Alexander Gauland, the AfD deputy chairman, and Alice Weidel, a member of the party’s Federal Executive Committee will run against the incumbent chancellor, Angela Merkel and Martin Schultz of the Social Democrats in the Federal elections to be held on 24 September. Their selection comes after the anti-immigration party’s co-leader, Frauke Petry, decided not put herself forward for the position. The decision to name Gauland and Weidel as the lead candidates was taken at a party congress in Cologne on Saturday as 10,000 protesters converged outside to voice their opposition to the AfD’s nationalist policies.
Petry, the party’s most high-profile leader, has been locked in a power struggle with Gauland and her co-leader, Jorg Meuthen, over the direction of the party. Last week she released a video in which she called upon AfD supporters to move away from the hardline oppositional stances represented by Gauland and Meuthen towards a more centrist position if it wants to be taken seriously as a potential coalition partner in government.
Petry has argued that the party is in danger of alienating middle class voters if it continues its shift to the right. The division in the party was illustrated during a recent controversy surrounding comments made by leader of the AfD in Thuringia who criticised Germany’s culture of holocaust remembrance. In a speech given to an AfD youth group in Dresden, Bjorn Hocke said that « these stupid politics of coming to grips with the past cripple us – we need nothing other than a 180-degree reversal on the politics of remembrance,” and referred to the holocaust memorial in Berlin as a ‘monument of shame’. Petry condemned his comments saying, With his unauthorized solo actions and constant crossfire, Björn Höcke has become a burden for the party. »
« We will either become political realists or become politically irrelevant, » she added. Gauland however responded by claiming that Hocke ‘had not said anything of which he should be ashamed.’
The AfD shot to prominence during the height of Germany’s immigration crisis in 2015 when the party, which was only formed two years earlier, began surging ahead of the Greens to become Germany’s third biggest party. Since 2014 it has won seats in 10 of Germany’s 16 state parliaments. As the immigration crisis has subsided so too has support for the AfD in the polls although it is still expected to comfortably surpass the 5% threshold that will see it represented in the Bundestag for the first time.