AfD party conference: More questions than answers

Frauke Petry, chairwoman of Germany’s right-wing populists, is a savvy politician. She demonstrated her cunning once again ahead of the AfD’s conference in Cologne this weekend, confronting the party with a crucial test.

Politics is a game of chess. That much we know from the popular US version of the TV series “House of Cards.” When it comes to the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, life often mimics art. Germany’s right-wing populists have more than once since the party’s founding in 2013 ripped back the curtain to shed public light on many of their internal feuds. More political drama has come to the fore immediately ahead of this weekend’s party conference in Cologne.

There was internal speculation that Frauke Petry, one of AfD’s two national leaders, wanted to be alone at the top of the party’s ticket for Germany’s national elections in September. This was despite an internal survey showing party members’ preference for a team of candidates.

Strategic decision out of deadlock?

Petry floated a “proposal for the future” that would move the party in a fundamentally different direction. She was criticized for creating a false choice between a party of realpolitik and one that takes a hardline position on its fundamental values at a time when the AfD needs to pull together for the campaign.

The co-chairwoman’s proposal attempts to kill two birds with one stone: Petry wants to rebrand the AfD as an electable people’s party for everyone. She also wants to take on her chief opponent: Björn Höcke, the hardline head of AfD in Thuringia. Petry already struck him hard by trying to oust him from the party for his alleged Nazi sympathies.

Michael Klonovsky, a former Petry staffer, recently spoke out publicly against her and her husband, Marcus Pretzell, head of AfD in North Rhine-Westphalia, saying they would doom the party.

Petry, sensing a lack of support ahead of the party conference, announced she would not run as lead candidate. It was a sudden and startling turn of events – for the party and the German media. In need of new leadership and direction, several state party leaders from around Germany have signaled their desire to step up.

The AfD would like to clarify the most looming questions on the first day of the party conference. What will become of Petry’s “proposal for the future” remains unclear: Some members would like to see it not even come to a vote. Her Facebook video statement on Wednesday was more open to compromise while also pushing strongly for a strategic decision, which could win her points among some of the conference’s 600 delegates.

Right-wing party platform?

One of the highest priorities for conference participants is to finalize the party platform. A draft was presented weeks ago: Swiss-like referenda, closing borders, deportation quotas, prioritizing German culture, a burqa ban and a requirement that Mosque sermons be delivered in German. The draft runs 200 pages.

The party conference has a rhythm all its own. Cologne expects as many as 50,000 anti-AfD protesters and 4,000 police officers are being called into service. Many businesses will also be closed.

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