German populist party eyes gains despite ‘shoot the migrants’ uproar

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Germany’s AfD began life as an anti-euro party, but it has morphed into a right-wing populist outfit suggesting that police should be allowed to shoot migrants seeking to enter the country.

Despite the uproar over chairwoman Frauke Petry’s comments over the weekend, the reality is that the party is enjoying its biggest support since its birth, scoring a record 12 percent on a public opinion poll published Sunday by the tabloid-style Bild newspaper.

Riding on a rising wave of mistrust over the 1.1 million asylum seekers who arrived in Germany in 2015, Alternative for Germany (AfD) appears to have struck a chord with some through its anti-migrant calls, posing a real threat to centrist parties.

The AfD is now clearly a “party of the radical right,” Hajo Funke, a political scientist at Berlin’s Free University, told public broadcaster Deutschlandfunk.

Given its Nazi past, Germany has over the decades since the end of the war kept far-right parties to the fringes of politics.

The AfD’s ability to anchor itself as a radical party is therefore “something new”, Werner Patzelt, political science expert at the Technical University of Dresden, told AFP.

After all, the party’s members have repeatedly raised eyebrows over what critics say is inflammatory speech.

Take the comments of member Bjoern Hoecke in early December, when he said that the “reproductive behaviour of Africans” could be a threat for Germany.

Most recently, party leader Petry herself said in comments carried by the Mannheimer Morgen regional daily on Saturday: “We need efficient controls to prevent so many unregistered asylum seekers from continuing to enter via Austria.”

She added: “No policeman wants to fire on a refugee and I don’t want that either. But as a last resort there should be recourse to firearms.”

Petry’s comments earned a swift rebuke from political heavyweights including Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, who said Germany’s domestic security watchdog should keep an eye on the AfD.

Even Bernd Luecke, the former leader of the party himself, has said that “the way the question of refugees is being dealt with by the AfD is inhumane and unbearable”.

But far from alienating voters, these provocative comments have had the opposite effect, the daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung’s Heribert Prantl wrote in an editorial.

In turn, that has pushed the AfD to “become even more virulent”.