AfD co-leader walks out on party on day after German election success

Justin Huggler
Frauke Petry (left) stunned party colleagues, including top candidates Alexander Gauland (centre) and Alice Weide (right), when she announced she would not take up the AfD party whip in parliament - AFP

The resurgent German far-Right looked in danger of imploding within hours of its electoral triumph on Monday, as one of its most prominent new MPs announced she was leaving her party and would sit as an independent.

Frauke Petry stunned colleagues at a joint press conference on Monday morning when she announced she would not take up the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party whip in parliament.

The AfD became the first far-Right party to sit in the Bundestag since 1961 after it came third in Sunday’s general election, which saw Angela Merkel remain as chancellor despite considerable losses.

The AfD looks set to win 94 seats in parliament with 12.6 per cent of the vote. But Ms Petry lashed out at party colleagues, accusing them of condoning racism and turning the AfD into a protest party.

Alexander Gauland, who was a co-lead candidate of the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) party Credit: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

“The sort of anarchic party the AfD has become in recent weeks can be successful in opposition, but cannot offer a credible alternative government,” she said.

Her comments came as Alexander Gauland, the leader of the AfD’s election campaign, pledged that the party would fight “an invasion of foreigners”.

“One million foreigners are being brought into this country and taking away a piece of this country and we in the AfD don't want that,” he said, referring to Mrs Merkel’s controversial refugee policy. “We don't want to lose Germany to an invasion of foreigners from a different culture.”

Party colleagues were visibly shocked when Ms Petry made her announcement at a joint press conference that was supposed to be a moment of triumph.

Frauke Petry speaks as she leaves a news conference in Berlin Credit: REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

To make matters worse, Ms Petry is still officially the party leader, though she has been sidelined in recent months and did not run the election campaign.

“After long consideration I have decided I will not take up the AfD whip in parliament,” she said, before abruptly leaving the press conference.

“This was not discussed with us, we didn’t know about it,” a bewildered Jörg Meuthen, co-chairman of the party, said.

Ms Petry told reporters outside she intended to sit as an independent MP “to prepare a conservative turnaround and implement a sensible AfD policy”.

Frauke Petry stands with top candidates Alexander Gauland, left, and Alice Weidel, centre Credit: AP Photo/Michael Sohn

The move suggested she is attempting to lead a breakaway faction from the party and left the AfD at risk of a split before its MPs have even taken up their seats.

In part, Ms Petry’s withdrawal will be seen as revenge after she was effectively ousted as leader in a party coup by hardliners led by Mr Gauland earlier this year.

The AfD was a hard-Right party under Ms Petry, and she often courted controversy as leader, at one point calling for border guards to open fire on refugees.

A woman removes sign with the name of Frauke Petry at the end of the Berlin news conference on Monday Credit: Wolfgang Rattay/Reuters

But the party has moved significantly further to the Right since she was sidelined, and Ms Petry has made it clear she was unhappy with remarks by Mr Gauland and others calling for an end to the culture of guilt over Germany’s Nazi past.

Earlier on Monday, she accused Mr Gauland of condoning racism in the party ranks. “If you look at the party in recent weeks, you will see there are always individuals who are talking outside the party line,” she said.

She also attacked Mr Gauland over remarks he made on Sunday evening in which he said the party would “hunt Mrs Merkel” in parliament.

Frauke Petry, chairman of the anti-immigration party Alternative fuer Deutschland (AfD) Credit: REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

“This is rhetoric which I don’t think middle-class voters will find constructive,” she said. “I want the issues to dominate in future, and not the sort of empty statements we’ve been hearing.”

Mrs Merkel was facing her own problems on Monday amid reports her Bavarian sister party was considering abandoning its traditional joint whip with her Christian Democratic Union party (CDU) in parliament.

The Christian Social Union (CSU) was said to be considering its options after a disastrous election in which the party’s top nominee for a cabinet job, Joachim Hermann, did not even win a seat.

Though abandoning the joint whip would be a symbolic blow to Mrs Merkel, the CSU is thought unlikely to refuse to join a new coalition, for fear new elections could cause it further losses.

Horst Seehofer, the CSU leader and one of the sternest critics of Mrs Merkel’s refugee policy, sought to distance himself from reports he had called for talks on the joint whip, saying he did not believe it would right to leave it.

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