Just one day after it was shaken by the news that its leader, Frauke Petry, was considering stepping down, the populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party met with more bad news on Friday. One of its candidates has been accused of forging signatures needed for a key election coming up in May.
In May, Germany's most populous state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) will hold regional parliamentary elections. The vote is a major litmus test for all parties ahead of September's federal contest, but it has added importance for the AfD. Not only are the anti-immigrant nationalists seeing their once surging poll numbers fall amidst Chancellor Angela Merkel's shift to the right and a leadership crisis, it's the first time the young party has been on the ballot in NRW, and it needs at least five percent of the vote to get seats in the legislature.
Failure to reach the threshold would not only be a humiliating defeat, but would cost the right-wing party crucial momentum needed if it hopes to enter the Bundestag in September.
Because it is running in NRW for the first time, all AfD candidates are required to get 100 constituent signatures to make their candidacy official. But a report by the Berliner Morgenpost suggested that the party is consistently running into trouble finding 100 supporters in some areas. Even aggressive social media campaigns have failed to drum up more help.
AfD member accused of lying for signatures
This drove Gütersloh candidate Sylvia Lillge to falsify at least 22 signatures, according to the authorities. Some of these signatures were simply invented or, as some locals told the police, were gathered under dubious pretenses. They allege that Lillge told them she was circulating a petition for better medical facilities in the area.
Local media reported that even the most successful AfD group, that in the relatively poor post-industrial town of Oberhausen, still managed only 190 signatures.
In a bid to garner more interest in the party ahead of the state elections, the AfD, which has been increasingly in the spotlight due to its anti-Islam and anti-migrant manifesto, is planning a large party convention in NRW's biggest city, Cologne, at the end of April. The main focus, however, will likely be on party chairwoman Frauke Petry, who has been blamed for slumping poll numbers.
She hinted on Thursday that her political career may be coming to an end, in an interview fellow party members criticized as "poorly thought out" and "blackmail."Elizabeth Schumacher