Tensions rise in Cologne, Germany, where a conference for the Alternative fuer Deutschland (AfD) party is being held. It is reported that AfD hopes to gain political power in the upcoming September 24th elections, and is voting for a new co-leader following the withdrawal of Frauke Petry. Petry, who is nine months pregnant, was set to be the party’s chief candidate where she would face off against Chancellor Angela Merkel to lead the country. Already roughly 10,000 of the anticipated 50,000 protesters have gathered outside the venue. Approximately 4,000 police officers have been deployed to help handle the crowd and avoid potential violence. For the most part, the protest has remained peaceful, barring a few skirmishes that have led to arrests. However, concerns regarding a large number of individuals expected to arrive prompted these precautions to help ensure peace and prevent damage to property and potential loss of life.
AfD is best known for its controversial, right-wing stances, primarily anti-Islam and anti-immigration. The group gained significant popularity during the refugee crisis, working in opposition of Chancellor Merkel’s open-door policy. However, as the crisis has died down, the group has begun to slip in the polls as the electorate is no longer satisfied with their anti-immigration platform. Last year, their popularity was at around 15%, and this year it finds itself between 7% and 11%. According to Al Jazeera, all of Germany’s major parties have ruled out working with AfD should the be elected.
In response to this, Petry has stated that the party “should become more mainstream and seek to govern in coalition rather than in opposition” to the popular stances of the electorate. However, delegates voted against this approach, arguing the importance of their stance as well as the need to not give into the leftist agenda.
The party’s controversial opinions are a sensitive topic in Germany, given the nation’s history with Nazism. “The feeling among many critics is that individuals within the party are essentially neo-Nazis, and clearly in Germany that’s a very sensitive issue,” said Al Jazeera correspondent Paul Brennan. This is demonstrated by the fact that the group, first formed in 2013, has grown, so has the opposition to it. The tensions started today are likely to carry out over the months as AfD continues to attempt to enter the political field in Germany.