Alternative for Germany or AfD: What to know about the far-right party

Alice Weidel (second from left) and Alexander Gauland (right) celebrate their nomination as campaign leaders of Germany's right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party during the party congress on April 23, 2017.
Alice Weidel (second from left) and Alexander Gauland (right) celebrate their nomination as campaign leaders of Germany's right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party during the party congress on April 23, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

BERLIN (Bloomberg, Reuters) - Alternative for Germany, or AfD, has emerged as the big winner in Germany's general election on Sunday (Sept 24).

It became the first far-right party to enter parliament in more than half a century, winning about 13 per cent of the votes and becoming the third largest party in parliament.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party Christian Social Union (CSU) scored 32.9 per cent of the votes. It was the bloc's worst showing in almost 70 years, but it will remain the largest in parliament.

After its good election showing, the AfD vowed to hound Dr Merkel on key issues such as cost of immigration and shortcomings of the single currency euro zone.

When was AfD formed?

The youngest party in parliament, AfD started in 2013 as an anti-euro movement and won 4.7 per cent in that year's national election, just short of the 5-per-cent margin needed to win parliamentary seats.

After infighting over the party's direction, Dr Merkel's handling of the refugee crisis in 2015 saved the party from disintegration and gave it a new lease of life, according to Mr Alexander Gauland, who co-led the AfD's campaign.

Sunday's national result wasn't a complete surprise: the AfD has won seats in 13 of Germany's 16 state legislatures, including a 24.3-per-cent share of the vote in the eastern region of Saxony Anhalt last year.

Who are the leaders?

The party's most recognisable figure is the more "moderate" Frauke Petry, who led a failed bid to isolate the AfD's extremist fringes.

The party's two lead candidates in the election are opposites: Representing the "far-right" faction is 76-year-old Gauland, a lawyer and journalist who was a member of Dr Merkel's conservative CDU for 40 years. The "moderate" faction is personified by 38-year-old economist Alice Weidel, who holds a PhD in business administration.

Then there are those like Wilhelm von Gottberg, 77, who called the Holocaust a tool "for the criminalisation of Germans and their history," according to German weekly Die Zeit.

What does the party want?

The party's platform calls for immediate closing of Germany's borders to stop "unregulated mass immigration," including many "illiterates" who can't be integrated into society. It wants Germany's liberal political asylum rules reframed to serve the national interest, a referendum on leaving the euro and returning to the deutsche mark, and economic sanctions on Russia lifted.

The European Union should be organised more as a club of sovereign nation states and German culture must be protected against "Islamisation," according to the AfD.

What does it mean for Germany's political system?

The AfD's success, combined with the anti-capitalist Left party's score, means more than one in five voters supported the political fringe. Even so, all established parties say they will not partner with the AfD.

For now, the most likely option for Dr Merkel may be to seek out the Free Democrats (FDP) and the Green party as partners for her next government, after the Social Democrats (SPD), Dr Merkel's current coalition partner, said they want to go into opposition.

What leverage does the AfD have now?

Parliamentary seats give the AfD access to sensitive information discussed behind closed doors in committees, including intelligence-gathering and financial policy. The party plans to seek a parliamentary inquiry into Dr Merkel's handling of the refugee crisis, which would run for months and include the power to demand testimony.

The influence extends further into society: lawmakers traditionally are given seats on supervisory boards of institutions such as state-owned lender KfW Group and the country's public broadcasters. Like other parties in parliament, the AfD will be eligible for federal campaign funds.