The co-chairwoman and most recognizable figure of the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD), Petra dropped her bombshell on Wednesday via video on her facebook page.
“To end all the speculations in this area, I would like to take the opportunity of this video message to declare unambiguously that I am available neither for a lead candidacy on my own nor for participation in a lead team,” Petry said.
Petry also said that it was unclear whether a party like the AfD, which will likely end up in the opposition, needed a “largely symbolic” lead candidate. She added that this was one issue to be decided at this weekend’s AfD conference in Cologne.
Petry made her surprise decision amidst reports that she was becoming increasingly isolated, after making an official “proposal for the future” that the party should agree on a binding strategy for Germany’s election national election on September 24.
Her announcement could well launch another struggle for power within a party that has seen more than its fair shares of leadership squabbles.
A split with the hardliners
Many people on the right wing of the AfD feel that Petry is too mainstream and too power-hungry for the anti-immigration, anti-EU populist movement.
In her video statement, Petry disputed being a divisive force.
“Dear delegates, my proposal for our party conference in Cologne has raised quite a stir and created a lot of wild speculation the past few days,” Petry said in her 12 minute message.
“Critics of the proposal accuse me of splitting the AfD into two camps. Others fear that a democratic decision about a common strategy would exclude parts of the party and different positions. The absurd assertion that I’m interested in a coalition with the CDU has no basis whatsoever in reality.”
The 41-year-old is also expecting to give birth to her fifth child soon. Petry did not say that she was stepping down from her position as party co-chair. Her decision throws wide open the question of who will lead the party’s election campaign, which the AfD will try to determine this weekend.
Petry became co-leader of the four-year-old Alternative for Germany, in 2015. She ousted fellow founder Bernd Lucke, an economics professor, shifting the party’s focus from economic issues to immigration and Islam.AfD’s poll ratings soared with the influx of migrants to Germany in late 2015 and early 2016. However, they have sagged in recent months as the issue faded from headlines and the party became increasingly mired in infighting between Petry, her husband, Marcus Pretzell, and other senior figures. Tensions have spiked ahead of a party conference this weekend, for which Petry submitted a motion declaring that AfD should be prepared to enter governing coalitions in the long term and shouldn’t be a “fundamental opposition” party. She also irked some rivals by leading a push for the expulsion of Björn Höcke (pictured on the right), AfD’s regional leader in eastern Thuringia state, after he suggested that Germany end its tradition of acknowledging and atoning for its Nazi past.
His message gave rise to suspicions that the right-wing populists may finally be ready to oust Höcke after months of top party members waffling over his statements.
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