German racism row lawyer in battle to lead far-right AfD
The populist Alternative for Germany party (AfD) moved further to the extreme right yesterday when it named a man widely accused of racism as its candidate for chancellor.
The AfD was forced to apologise last year after Alexander Gauland claimed no German would want to live next door to Jérôme Boateng, one of the country's best known footballers.
But the 76-year-old was chosen by delegates at the party conference as one of two joint chancellor candidates in September's elections.
Mr Gauland was named alongside Alice Weidel, a less well known party figure who last year accused Angela Merkel of being personally responsible for the rape and murder of a young woman by an Afghan refugee.
The choice amounted to a potentially fatal blow to the authority of Frauke Petry, the party leader, who had called for the AfD to abandon its populist image and join the political mainstream.
"We want to keep our home country, keep our identity, and we are proud to be German," Mr Gauland told cheering delegates at the party conference in Cologne, as a disconsolate Ms Petry looked on.
"If we stick together now and fight together, then finally a true opposition party can be got into the German Parliament," Ms Weidel said in her acceptance speech. But opinion polls suggest both Mr Gauland and Ms Weidel are much less popular with ordinary voters than Ms Petry, and that the AfD has a struggle on its hands.
The party has seen its support in the opinion polls fall from a high of 16pc last September to just 9pc amid the infighting.
Mr Gauland, in particular, is a polarising figure in Germany for his public outbursts. As well as his remarks about Mr Boateng, he has claimed the national football team has "not been German for a long time", and spoken out against Mesut Özil, a Muslim player, for making the pilgrimage to Mecca. He called for a ban on Muslims entering Germany earlier this year, and last year said: "Not everyone who holds a German passport is German."
The less well known Ms Weidel is seen as a relative moderate within the AfD, and appears to have been nominated to placate party members alarmed by the choice of Mr Gauland.
Beatrix von Storch, a key ally of Mr Gauland's who was expected to serve as part of a three-member top team, appears to have been discarded.
The vote was a disaster for Ms Petry, who had thrown down the gauntlet to her rivals by refusing to serve as chancellor candidate, challenging them to risk fighting an election without her. A triumphant Mr Gauland offered her an olive branch, telling her: "We still need you in the party."
Though she remains party leader, her authority will be challenged by the rival leadership team of Mr Gauland and Ms Weidel who will now dominate the election campaign.
It was under Ms Petry's leadership that the AfD was transformed from a fringe Eurosceptic party into a populist force that was seen for much of last year as the main challenge to Mrs Merkel. (© Daily Telegraph London)