Frauke Petry: Anti-migrant German politician with a 'dangerous smile'

Frauke Petry speaks at a press conference in Berlin last Monday (Sept 5).
Frauke Petry speaks at a press conference in Berlin last Monday (Sept 5).PHOTO: REUTERS

Frauke Petry has suggested that police be allowed to shoot at migrants entering Germany, has attacked Muslim football star Mesut Ozil and voiced admiration for US presidential hopeful Donald Trump.

Those views have earned herthe dubious title of "The Demonic" who wears "Germany's most dangerous smile", making her one of the country's most controversial politicians.

But the 41-year-old mother of four has propelled her party Alternative for Germany (AfD)  from relative obscurity onto the political mainstage, most recently humiliating Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union in the German leader's own home state.

Founded in 2013, AfD took second place in last week's vote, pushing the CDU to third place. 

It now has seats in nine out of Germany's 16 regional parliaments and is polling at double digits nationwide - sufficient to clinch seats in the federal legislature when Europe's biggest economy holds its general election next year.

The party's rise has alarmed Germans, with conservative daily Die Welt noting "Germany now has what hasn't existed since the end of the war: an extreme-right party".

Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel has compared AfD members to Nazis, while Dr Merkel last week called on parties across the political spectrum to unite against the challenge posed by the AfD, which wants a ban on minarets on mosques and the call to prayer.

Although the AfD started as an anti-euro party, it has transformed into an anti-migrant and Islamophobic platform after its founder Bernd Lucke was ousted from the party and Ms Petry elected as boss.

Yet few people had heard of Ms Petry as recently as three years ago.

Born in Dresden on June 1, 1975, she grew up in communist East Germany before moving to the West at the age of 14, just months before the fall of the Berlin Wall.

A brilliant student at school, she studied chemistry and later founded a company that made environmentally friendly polyurethanes.

That business folded, but Ms Petry, who describes herself as "small and tough", promptly founded a second. "Courage for truth means also courage to fail," she said. 

She met her estranged husband, Sven Petry, in school. But after their divorce this year, she made no secret of her wish to remarry quickly, to fellow AfD member Marcus Pretzell, an ideological partner. 

At the height of the migrant crisis when tens of thousands of migrants were arriving every week in Germany, Ms Petry sparked an uproar when she told the Mannheimer Morgen daily: "We need comprehensive checks to prevent so many unregistered refugees from continuing to cross over from Austria." If necessary, border police must "use firearms, that's what the law says".

She has since backpedalled on those comments, insisting that the media had distorted them.

Political analyst Hajo Funke told The Straits Times that Ms Petry is hard to pin down. "Her position changes very sharply. Sometimes she calls for moderation, and other times she radicalises her position. The most radical view is that she sees herself on the side of Donald Trump. And until today, she has not taken that back and that's going down the racist route," he said.

Ms Petry had described Mr Trump as "refreshingly different", and like AfD, stands for a "new style" of politics.

At the same time, she pushes for women to have both a career and children - something that does not quite fit with the hard conservative view of females as homemakers. 

International media are split on how to describe her party. While some have called it radical right, others have stuck to the more moderate populist characterisation.

What is clear is that she has set her sights high. She expects AfD to send MPs to the Bundestag in 2017.

And in 10 years? 

"I see us in the government," she told Die Zeit, although she added that she hadn't considered what role she'd take in the Cabinet.