Germany’s anti-immigrant party denies reports co-leader planning to quit

Anti-immigration party AfD leader Petri during a news conference at the Bundespressekonferenz in Berlin

BERLIN (Reuters) – The co-leader of the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD), Frauke Petry, is not considering quitting, her spokesman said on Thursday, after media reports suggested that she might just six months before a national election.

The AfD has seen its support tumble in recent months, due to party infighting, a big drop in the number of migrants arriving in Germany and a revival in the fortunes of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) under new leadership.

The latest Forsa and Allensbach polls show support for the AfD at 7 percent, its weakest level in those surveys since late 2015.

German newspaper Tagesspiegel cited Petry in its online edition on Thursday as saying: “For me, neither politics nor the AfD are without alternatives”.

It also reported the pregnant 41-year-old had said it made sense to re-think one’s life at certain points and then to adjust it.

“That’s the way I do it and still do after more than four years in the AfD, which has required a huge amount of energy and meant the end of a normal life,” Petry told the newspaper.

That prompted widespread speculation in the German media that Petry, seen as the face of the party, was planning to resign.

Her spokesman Oliver Lang denied the reports, saying: “That’s unfounded.”

Petry has had a tough time recently – she was pictured crying at a regional AfD congress at the weekend, with media reports saying her tears were in response to strong criticism for her condemnation of AfD member Bjoern Hoecke, who has called Berlin’s Holocaust Memorial a “monument of shame”.

Petry and her supporters want Hoecke expelled from the party but other members have defended him. Two-thirds of the executive board voted in February to oust him and it is now up to a party arbitration body to decide whether to let that stand.

Petry was not able to prevent a Hoecke supporter from being chosen as the second candidate – after her – on the list for the state of Saxony, where she heads the AfD, for the Sept. 24 national election.

Germany has a mixed-member proportional voting system under which voters cast two ballots: one directly for a candidate in his or her constituency and the second for a party. Seats from the second vote are allocated from the parties’ lists.

Petry is said to want to be the party’s sole frontrunner at the national level for the election, rather than having a team of top candidates. But after an online members’ vote the party looks set to go into the election campaign with a team. A final decision on that is expected at an AfD congress in April.

(Reporting by Hans-Edzard Busemann; Writing by Michelle Martin; Editing by Gareth Jones)