BERLIN (AP) — One of the most prominent figures in the nationalist Alternative for Germany said Tuesday she plans to leave the party, even as other lawmakers from the anti-migrant party held their first meeting after a strong showing at the polls.
The announcement from Frauke Petry, the party’s co-chairwoman since 2015, came after Alternative for Germany, or AfD, won 12.6 percent of the vote in Sunday’s election to secure seats in the national parliament for the first time.
Petry told reporters Tuesday in the eastern city of Dresden she would leave the party “in the coming days.” She said it was “the logical consequence of what has happened in recent months in our party.”
She played a key role in moving AfD’s focus from opposing eurozone bailouts to migration when she took over in 2015, but has been increasingly sidelined in recent months.
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Petry has said she aimed to make the AfD ready for government in 2021, and urged her party earlier this year to exclude members who expressed extremist views.
“We think this country urgently needs political change, but we no longer consider our party in a position to take it in hand” after months of in-fighting, she said Tuesday.
“Of course I want to continue pushing for political change in 2021 as an individual lawmaker, and perhaps later in a different configuration that it’s far too early to speak about,” she added.
Petry had already announced Monday that she wouldn’t join the party’s parliamentary group, but left her future open. Other leaders then urged her to leave the party altogether.
Her husband, Marcus Pretzell, the party leader in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia and a regional lawmaker there, told The Associated Press that he is also leaving AfD.
AfD won 94 of the 709 seats in the new German parliament, including Petry’s. It wasn’t immediately clear whether any other federal lawmakers would follow her departure.
Fellow AfD members appeared relatively unconcerned by the news as they gathered in Berlin.
Sunday’s election left Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative bloc weakened but still easily the biggest group in parliament. Merkel now faces a complicated task in forming a coalition — most likely with the pro-business Free Democrats and the traditionally left-leaning Greens.
Her partners in the outgoing government, the center-left Social Democrats, say they will go into opposition after they lost substantial support.
Before she can haggle with other parties, Merkel will have to smooth over tensions with the Christian Social Union, the Bavaria-only sister to her own conservative Christian Democratic Union.
The CSU leader, Bavarian governor Horst Seehofer, feuded with Merkel over the 2015-16 migrant influx and demanded a fixed annual limit on the number of asylum-seekers Germany accepts.
The pair buried their differences in recent months, but Seehofer has insisted since election night that the conservatives need to close an “open flank” to their right.
“We must make clear to the public we have understood (that) just carrying on wouldn’t be good,” Seehofer said, adding that people “expect policies that react to this election result.”
Merkel said Monday she “can’t see what we should do differently.” But Seehofer said after meeting her Tuesday he has “great confidence” that they will close ranks.
Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed to this report.