Following his ousting as leader of Alternative for Germany (AfD) last weekend, the party’s co-founder is said to be considering the creation of a new party. Bernd Lucke and the executive board of his factional association, Weckruf 2015 (Wake-Up Call 2015), have decided to consult the economically liberal wing of AfD on how to proceed in the wake of a “complete change in the circumstances” after the party convention.
Reuters reports Lucke has announced he will formally leave AfD on Friday citing concern it it is becoming “islamophobic and xenophobic”. He also cited anti-western, pro-Russian leanings and growing public criticism of the United States by AfD members. He acknowledged in the letter that some members were urging him to launch a new party “to promote the economic liberalism and conservative family values the AfD espoused at its start” but he said he had not yet taken a decision to do so.
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EurActiv reports Weckruf 2015 being “dismayed and appalled” at the party’s newly conservative direction confirmed by the election of Frauke Petry as leader. Members of the internal grouping have have been presented four options as to how the group should work in AfD: found a new party; continue to work with AfD; immediately leave; or sit it out. According to association spokesman Sven Wagner, the result will be known late Thursday.
Lucke fears an exodus of moderate conservative and economically liberal AfD members and supporters, turning it into something similar to the French Front National Front. Having conceded at the weekend that he had lost the party he said his own exit is “not unlikely”. N-TV reports Bernd Kölmel, Hans-Olaf Henkel, Ulrike Trebesius and Joachim Starbatty, some of Lucke’s fellow AfD MEPs, have already announced their resignations.
Using the standard formation of defecting politicians through the ages, Henkel tweeted: “I have not deserted the #AfD, it has deserted me” adding “I can no longer be a part of vulgarity, intolerance and manipulation.”
Lucke has confirmed the AfD MEPs will continue to work with the European Conservatives and Reformists Group, where it sits alongside British Conservative MEPs.
The full extent of party resignations is hotly disputed. AfD boasts some 23,000 members of which about 4,000 are identified Weckruf 2015 supporters. Weckruf 2015 claims members are “leaving in droves” with mass departures at the regional, municipal and local levels. On the other hand AfD’s press spokesman, Christian Lüth, said only 512 resignations had been received by Tuesday morning, contradicting Weckruf 2015’s Sven Wagner who claimed to know the figure is “considerably higher”.
External observers have criticised the new policy direction and predicted it will lead to the demise of AfD. Politics professor Jürgen Falter said that without Lucke, the “solid middle class poster child” of the party about whom there is “absolutely no suspicion that he could be extreme right”, it will be more vulnerable to criticism.
Other say the new direction is needed to turn the party into a broader movement, one which does not merely concentrate on criticism of the euro but also includes areas that led the AfD to success in regional elections, such as policies on immigration and criticism of multiculturalism.
In a sign of the attacks to come, Christian Lindner, leader of the liberal Free Democratic Party, said that Petry’s election “makes the AfD the PEGIDA Party” – a reference to the Patriotic Europeans Against Islamisation of the West group which was founded as a peaceful means to protest against what it sees as the Islamisation of Europe but was demonised by opponents.
For her part Petry denies any lurch to the right, dismissing the accusation as “an invention of the left-wing media”.