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AfD presents itself united at federal party conference for state elections

AfD presents itself united at federal party conference for state elections
AfD presents itself united at federal party conference for state elections

At the party conference in Essen, the AfD refrained from open debate – and from mentioning a specific name – in view of tens of thousands of protests and the upcoming state elections.

No, Tino Chrupalla had not expected that, and neither had his party. The old and new chairman of the AfD appears shaken as he stands on the stage in the Grugahalle, behind him the huge blue wall with the party logo and ten neatly lined up national flags.

His eyes are moist and his voice trembles as he calls out: “I will continue to face the wind!” And yes: “I will work even harder!”

In 2017, the Saxon master painter Chrupalla took the Görlitz constituency from the then CDU member of the Bundestag and current Prime Minister Michael Kretschmer and was promoted to party leader in 2019. But since then, the AfD has repeatedly struggled with him, be it because of his stumbling rhetoric, his sometimes awkward appearances or poorly communicated decisions. Two years ago, at the party conference in Riesa, the chairman had to run against a rival and was only confirmed in office with a measly 53 percent.

Rumours about a punishment for Chrupalla

But now, this Saturday afternoon in the Grugahalle in Essen, Chrupalla received 82.2 percent of the delegates’ votes. The result is all the more surprising because he was held responsible for the party leadership’s handling of the scandal-ridden MEP Maximilian Krah. One side accused him of having dropped the former top candidate. The other side felt that he had not acted consistently enough.

In the weeks before the party conference, there had been many meetings and phone calls. Chrupalla would be punished in Essen, the AfD said, and Krah’s camp alone would ensure this. The Bavarian regional association submitted a special motion that read like a single message of solidarity for the controversial EU MP.

A statute proposal from 13 state chairmen was added to the general rumblings. It provides for the new position of general secretary, in conjunction with a single leader. And this single leader, according to the unanimous agreement of the party, will consist of Alice Weidel from 2026 at the latest. The up-and-coming Bundestag parliamentary group vice-chairman Sebastian Münzenmaier could then take over operational business as general secretary. Chrupalla would thus be out in the medium term.

Alice Weidel is only the second winner

But on Saturday things turned out quite differently. After his confirmation, Chrupalla stepped up to the lectern beaming and enthusiastically proposed his “beloved co-chair” for re-election. Weidel ironically thanked her “beloved Tino” – but then, and this was the next surprise, she only received just under 80 percent. Suddenly Weidel, who went into the party conference with confidence, appeared to be the runner-up.

But that’s just how it is in the AfD, where even the officials can’t predict much. And that’s especially true at a party conference that takes place under extreme pressure. Pressure from the state elections in Saxony, Thuringia and Brandenburg in September. Pressure from the newly founded and astonishingly successful Sahra Wagenknecht (BSW) alliance. And pressure from resistance from outside.

Resistance is omnipresent in Essen. Shortly before 6 a.m., the police had their first major operation because demonstrators wanted to overcome one of the 45 checkpoints. The officers prevented them from breaking through by using batons and pepper spray.

The protesters are everywhere. They occupy driveways and block roads. Extremely agile and tactically trained groups of left-wing extremists have mixed in with the predominantly peaceful protesters. They harass and threaten delegates and guests at the party conference, but also journalists. The police have to literally fight their way out for some of them. Two officers fall to the ground, demonstrators kick them so hard in the head that they have to be taken to hospital with serious injuries.

Around 4,000 officers from several countries have gathered in Essen for this weekend. They are concentrated in the Rüttenscheid district, where the Grugahalle resembles a fortress. The huge concrete complex is surrounded by several rows of barriers. Water cannons and armored vehicles are on standby.

In fact, almost all of the 600 delegates make it to the hall more or less on time, where the Rolling Stones once performed, Boris Becker won the Davis Cup and Angela Merkel was elected chairwoman for the first time by a CDU party conference. Now, in her opening speech, Alice Weidel polemicizes against the federal government’s “woke hippie madness,” which the AfD will “put an end to.” The country has “degenerated into a pony farm.”

And the tone continues in this vein. She scandalizes the consequences of migration (“More knife attacks, more murders, more rapes”) and calls for mass deportations: “Those who have entered our country illegally in their millions since the Merkel-CDU welcome coup in 2015 must go.”

Finally, Weidel attacks the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (“enemy of the constitution”), opposes the right of self-determination (“will abolish the AfD immediately”) and praises the EU election result (“The East is blue”).

The speech fits the location. The radicalization process of the AfD began in the Grugahalle in the summer of 2015. At that time, chairman Bernd Lucke was overthrown and left the AfD along with the economically liberal camp. After that, the right-wing extremist “wing” of the Thuringian state chairman Björn Höcke increasingly determined the course.

Nine years later, the party is established at federal and state level and will soon have 50,000 members. Nevertheless, it is as far away from power as it was in 2015. Even though Chrupalla promised imminent government takeovers in his speech, the polls say something completely different. With the new competition from the BSW, the likelihood of a single-party government in Saxony or Thuringia has dropped to zero. And with the exception of the Values ​​Union, which has been extremely unsuccessful so far, there are no potential coalition partners anywhere in sight.

The chairman exercises moderate self-criticism

Chrupalla therefore takes up the term that Münzenmaier’s younger generation is using: professionalization. The scandals surrounding Krah, which cost the AfD its parliamentary group in Brussels with Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National, should be a lesson.

“Anyone who represents positions that contradict the mainstream must have 100 percent integrity,” explains the chairman. “Careless and unprofessional behavior” has provided “unnecessary opportunities for attack.”

This is followed by moderate self-criticism. The selection of the European election list at the party conference in Magdeburg did not go optimally, says Chrupalla. “Suitability or competence were not the decisive criteria in every single case.” Therefore, the federal executive board will “take a closer look” at the candidates and “monitor future lists more closely”.

Chrupalla can also afford these rates because Krah did not travel to Essen. In addition, the Bavarians quickly withdrew their application for support.

And so something like harmony almost blows through the Grugahalle. The positions on the federal executive board are filled until 6 p.m. – and this is mostly in the interests of Weidel, Chrupalla and the network around Münzenmaier. In addition, it is said that the statute proposal is to be watered down: According to this, a general secretary could also work under a dual leadership.

“We as a party are only just beginning to write history!” exclaims Weidel. “The sun of government responsibility must rise for us in the East,” assists Chrupalla.

However, the woman who could be a nuisance is not mentioned. No AfD politician mentions the name Sahra Wagenknecht at the microphone in the Grugahalle this Saturday. But there may still be time for that on Sunday, when the party conference continues.

Source: Stern

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