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AfD braces for busy conference weekend

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AfD braces for busy conference weekend
"Vote AfD!" reads the flyover message. Photo: DPA
14:37 CET+01:00
As leaders of the Germany's anti-Euro upstart party Alternative for Germany (AfD) prepare for its party conference this weekend, the potential for chaos is rising.

More than 2,000 people have confirmed their attendance for the conference, happening Saturday and Sunday in Bremen, though 3,000 registered to attend.

Those figures make this potentially the largest party conference to be held in post-war Germany.

Traditional party conferences are made up of delegates elected from regional party federations, meaning that there are predictable numbers.

The AfD, however, decided that any registered party member could attend.

With regional votes in Hamburg (February 15) and Bremem (May 10) on the horizon, the party has much to discuss as it moves forward, including how it proceeds as it moves from a narrow economic focus to adopt political stances on a wider range of topics, including migration.

Beware of bandwagon-jumping

In an editorial for Handelsblatt on Friday, AfD vice president Hans-Olaf Henkel signalled in-fighting as he urged his fellow party members to not jump too hastily on the bandwagon of Pegida, which stands (Patriots Against the Islamisation of the West) who are wary of the growing number of Muslim immigrants in Germany.

"In the wake of our successful election results, some people on the bridge are orienting themselves not by the light of the stars – that being our election manifesto – but by the lights of other passing vessels, such as Pegida," the maritime enthusiast wrote.

The party is also seeking to re-organise its leadership. Until now, the party has a three-way leadership split between Bernd Lucke, Frauke Petry and Konrad Adam.

From left to right: Konrad Adam, Frauke Petry and Bernd Lucke. Photo: DPA

According to the Süddeutsche newspaper, Lucke is looking to claim overall control after disagreeing with Adam's public comments on the party. Lucke hopes that streamlining the party will also add to the party's professionalism.

It's not just the economy, stupid

However, Petry and Adam, as well as the head of the Brandenburg faction of the party, Alexander Gauland, think this is the wrong direction. They fear that Lucke in charge will mean that the party will focus on Lucke's priority of criticising the eurozone.

Other party members, like Gauland, want the party to align itself with the populist Pegida movement and bring party focus out of economics to a broader scope.

Petry, who represents the party in Saxony where the Pegida movement has held its near-weekly marches in Dresden, is also looking to join forces with the populist group.

In an interview earlier this week, Gauland said that all immigration from the Middle East should be stopped.

"We should no longer support immigration by people who are totally foreign cultural tradition, in fact, we ought to block it," Gauland told the Tagesspiegel newspaper.

Flagging Pegida losing its charm

Though whether Pegida is still worth seeking out is also questionable in light of the current leadership debacle the anti-Islamization group is facing.

After attracting 25,000 marchers on January 12, the following week's demonstration had to be cancelled following a "credible jihadi threat". It soon emerged that former leader, Lutz Bachmann, had once posted a picture of himself on Facebook styled as Hitler with the caption "He's back", as well as calling refugees and immigrants "trash" and "cattle" in comments on the social network.  

The incident has led to a rift in the leadership of Pegida itself, as some of the organisers split over how much involvement Bachmann should have in the future. 

A NoPegida demonstrator's sign reads:

It all signals a split in the party's future: Whether to stay the course of being an economics-focussed party to keep their current voter base, or to try and woo new voters ahead of the coming round of elections.

A poll conducted in Hamburg on Thursday show that the AfD could gain six percent of the vote there, and secure a spot in the local parliament.

The party will have a harder time convincing voters in Bremen, were a poll showed that three percent of voters would choose them in the municipal vote.

And beyond all that, the 2,000 delegates have other subjects on the agenda, as the party has invited lecturers to speak on subjects like "family-friendly social reform" and the Swiss model of healthcare, reported the Frankfuter Allgemine Zeitung

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