FILE PHOTO: Anti-immigration party Alternative for Germany (AfD) chairwoman Frauke Petry delivers her keynote speech at the AfD's election campaign launch for the upcoming North Rhine-Westphalian federal state elections in Essen, Germany April 8, 2017. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay /File Photo(reuters_tickers)
By Michelle Martin
BERLIN (Reuters) - Frauke Petry, co-leader of the Alternative for Germany (AfD), said on Wednesday she would not lead the anti-immigration party's campaign for a Sept. 24 federal election - a shock announcement from the woman seen as the face of the party.
Opinion polls show the AfD winning enough votes to enter the Bundestag lower house of parliament for the first time. But the AfD has lost about a third of its supporters as migrant arrivals to Germany have eased and the party has also been hit by infighting and controversy over its attitude to the Nazi past.
Petry caused controversy by tabling a motion for a party congress next weekend in which she said the AfD - which is shunned by other parties - should be ready to join coalitions in future. She also said some senior AfD members such as Alexander Gauland wanted it to be a "fundamental" opposition party.
Speaking in a video message posted on her Facebook page, Petry said she had been accused of making the proposal solely to become the party's top candidate despite her not mentioning that idea in her motion.
"In order to put an end to all speculation in this regard, I am using the opportunity of this video message to clearly state that I am neither available for a lone lead candidacy nor for participation in a top team," she said.
The AfD, which rails against Chancellor Angela Merkel's decision to allow more than a million migrants into Germany since mid-2015, is due to decide on its election leadership line-up at its weekend gathering in the western city of Cologne.
Petry's camp wants to expel from the party a senior member, Bjoern Hoecke, for calling Berlin's Holocaust Memorial a "monument of shame" and saying history books should be re-written to focus more on German victims of the Nazis.
Petry, a 41-year-old chemist from the former Communist East Germany, managed to secure a two-thirds majority on the party executive board in favour of expelling Hoecke. The far-right wing of the AfD supports him, however, and a party arbitration board must now decide his fate.
A Forsa opinion poll published on Wednesday showed the AfD winning eight percent in the election, well above the five percent threshold needed to win seats in the Bundestag. Merkel's conservatives are seen emerging as the largest party.
Germany's Der Spiegel magazine has reported that Petry's opponents agreed at a secret meeting last week to form a team around 76-year-old publicist Gauland and 38-year-old economist Alice Weidel - who, like Petry, wants Hoecke ousted. The AfD could not be reached for comment on the report.
(Additional reporting by Hans-Edzard Busemann and Paul Carrel; Writing by Michelle Martin; Editing by Madeline Chambers and Gareth Jones)