German Populists Choose Two to Campaign After Sidelining Leader

  • AfD select Gauland, Weidel after rebuking co-leader Petry
  • Petry, AfD’s public face, calls delegates’ decision ‘mistake’

Germany’s anti-immigration Alternative for Germany, struggling to unite amid increasingly public infighting, selected two candidates to lead the party in the national parliament election this year a day after it sidelined its most popular leader.

The AfD selected Alexander Gauland, 76, a former member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats who abandoned the party for the political right, and Alice Weidel, 38, an economist who has called for the abolition of the European Central Bank, for the Sept. 24 contest. The decision Sunday came after delegates at a conference in the western German city of Cologne rebuked an attempt by co-leader Frauke Petry, 41, to steer the AfD to the mainstream, a step she called “a mistake.”

“As long as the party doesn’t recognize where it wants to go, then this campaign must be led by protagonists who can live with this non-decision better than I can,” Petry told reporters on Saturday after delegates scrapped a motion she introduced to debate the party’s future. She said she’ll remain the AfD’s co-leader.

Frauke Petry

Photographer: Lukas Schulze/Getty Images

The decision by the divided party to reject Petry’s motion risks tipping the AfD, whose support was buoyed as it attacked Merkel’s open-border immigration, further to the right even as it’s lost a third of its support. After thousands gathered outside the convention hall to protest the AfD Saturday, the party also approved an election platform that aims to shut the country’s borders and calls a rising population of Muslims in Germany “a great danger to our state.”

A Petry rival, Gauland this year defended an AfD state leader, Bjoern Hoecke, who sparked public outrage in January by decrying Germany’s post-World War II guilt, saying Germans were the only people who “planted a monument of shame in the heart of their capital,” a reference to the Holocaust Memorial in central Berlin. Petry has called for his expulsion from the AfD.

Weidel was put forward to represent the party’s wing more focused on the economy. She’s called the Frankfurt-based ECB’s monetary policy measures “financial repression” and has said the 19-member euro area is doomed to fail.

The AfD’s platform also includes items on deporting rejected asylum seekers, while admitting only qualified laborers; lifting sanctions on Russia; cutting taxes and balancing the budget; and exiting the Paris climate accord.

‘Our Country’

Joerg Meuthen, an economics professor who is Petry’s normally soft-spoken counterpart as co-leader, drew applause on Saturday as he hit the migration theme and pushed back against Petry’s bid to weigh cooperating with Germany’s traditional parties.

“We don’t want to be a minority in our own country, but we already are in some respects,” Meuthen said. “This country is our country.”

As the AfD campaigns for seats in the German parliament for the first time in September, a poll showed the risks of sidelining Petry. Fifty-three percent said the party’s fortunes would suffer without her, according to a Bild am Sonntag survey.

Petry, whose rejected motion included language assailing party leaders she accused of hewing to a “permanent opposition,” had already announced Wednesday that she wouldn’t be a top contender for parliament following sustained criticism from rivals. Earlier Saturday, she had offered to work on alterations to the text to assuage critics.

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