By dpa correspondents
Dresden, Germany (dpa) – Politicians in Germany’s far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) insisted that the party was united following a convention on Saturday, amid internal divisions over the exclusion of a member.
“We had controversial discussions, controversial arguments, as befits a democratic party,” co-chairman Tino Chrupalla said on Saturday evening.
But he said that the party’s executive was working closely together, saying, “We are one AfD, there is no division.”
The party was split after a decision to exclude a member for his alleged past membership in extremist organizations.
The AfD expelled Andreas Kalbitz on May 15, claiming that he did not disclose his membership in the Heimattreue Deutsche Jugend (HDJ, or German Youth Faithful to the Homeland) in his application.
However, a court on Friday ruled that he had to be reinstated as a member because the expulsion went against German laws that require termination of membership to be decided by special party tribunals.
Joerg Meuthen, an AfD leader, said he was confident that an arbitration tribunal would recognise Kalbitz’s exclusion as legally valid.
At the convention, however, Meuthen came in for criticism and delegates discussed a motion accusing him causing a party rift.
Ahead of the meeting, Meuthen said he was trying to hold the party together but that he wanted to establish a “clear firewall” against the far-right and right-wing extremism.
On Saturday, 27 delegates rejected the motion against Meuthen, while 23 voted in favour.
The question of Kalbitz’ exclusion was energetically discussed at the convention, Meuthen said, noting that while the AfD has a lively culture of debate, that did not mean it was divided.
He called the exclusion an “uncomfortable measure”, but one that was necessary, and based on facts.
Nonetheless, Meuthen also acknowledged that there were differing views on the issue among the AfD’s leadership, calling the party one of plural opinions.
He insisted, though, that the board was unanimous on most major decisions, “even in this critical phase.”
Other leading party members backed his views.
The debate reflects longer-running divisions as some party leaders at national level seek to move the party away from extremist anti-immigrant views, while others see the AfD’s future as a staunchly nationalist force.
The AfD’s surge in support in general elections in 2017 made it the country’s third-strongest party and largest opposition force in the Bundestag, sending shockwaves through the political establishment.