A leader of Germany’s far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) has admitted his party is facing a split unless it can resolve an emotive row over a controversial regional figure.
The party is divided over the decision to throw out Brandenburg’s AfD leader Andreas Kalbitz for failing to declare membership of an extremist organisation when he joined the party.
Forced out by more moderate AfD members, Mr Kalbitz is a leading figure among the far-right faction inside the party which enjoys the support of nearly half the party membership nationwide. Among his most senior supporters are three of the AfD’s four main leaders.
One of them, Alexander Gauland, has launched a public attack on the AfD moderates, accusing them of “trickery” to force out the Brandenburg leader. Mr Gauland suggested the party’s own governance board, which confirmed the expulsion last week, was politically biased.
“I cannot hold the party together if it continues to divide itself in this way,” said Mr Gauland to the Welt newspaper, adding he was “sceptical” of the AfD’s future prospects. “I fear the party is facing into difficult times and, from what I see at the moment, I see few possibilities of preventing that.”
After launching as a political opponent to euro crisis bailouts, the AfD shifted to the far-right five years ago to capitalise on public anxiety during the refugee crisis. That triggered a surge in regional elections, giving the party seats in all of Germany’s 16 federal states. In 2017, it entered the Bundestag in Berlin as the largest opposition party, with nearly 13 per cent of the vote.
But recent months of in-fighting over its future direction have hit the party’s standing with voters. Support now ranges from 11 to as low as 8 per cent in opinion polls. Bundestag MPs, nervous of losing their seats in the 2021 autumn election, have sent a letter to party leaders complaining about the in-fighting and demanding greater focus on policy.
Failure to capitalise
Feuding party leaders have been unable to capitalise on scepticism in some quarters to EU leaders’ multibillion Covid-19 emergency measures. Similarly, the party has neither managed to tap into pandemic anxiety nor the growing frustration among some people over Covid-19 lockdown measures.
In March the party demanded that the government shut Germany’s national borders, with some figures suggesting migrants were to blame for the virus spread. In recent weeks, the party has tried to latch on to the growing protests against Covid-19 vaccinations, with AfD supporters visible at Saturday’s weekend protest in Berlin.
The Kalbitz row is symptomatic of the power struggle under way within the party. While his own MPs – and leaders from eastern Germany – are rallying to support Mr Kalbitz, western liberals and conservatives in the AfD are backing co-leader Jörg Meuthen. He forced through the expulsion, insisting Mr Kalbitz – and other more extreme AfD figures – are a danger to the party’s long-term viability.
With the leadership divided, and neither side backing down, senior party officials see no resolution to the stand-off in sight, just over a year before Germany’s federal election.