Bitter divisions within Germany’s far-Right AfD party spilled out into the open over the weekend, when the party’s more moderate faction succeeded in ejecting a high-profile extremist from their ranks.
The rift comes as Angela Merkel’s popularity climbs due to what is seen as her calm and efficient handling of the response to the Covid-19 pandemic, and the AfD’s popularity sinks.
Andreas Kalbitz, AfD leader in Brandenburg, was stripped of his party membership on Friday after the national leadership voted narrowly to dispel him after discovering his previous association with an extremist movement.
Mr Kalbitz was found to have concealed from the party that he once attended meetings of the Loyal German Youth, a movement considered by Berlin to be neo-Nazi.
His ejection signalled victory for the moderates under party co-leader Jörg Meuthen who have been attempting to position the party as a conservative alternative to Mrs Merkel’s centre-Right Christian Democrats.
Mr Kalbitz’s ejection comes after German intelligence services classified der Flügel, a party sub-organisation, as “extremist” earlier this year. Mr Kalbitz ran der Flügel along with Björn Höcke, the head of the party in Thuringia.
Mr Höcke accused the national leadership of “betrayal” on Sunday, while Mr Kalbitz encouraged his followers to leave the party and threatened legal action.
Moderates on the other hand hailed victory, saying the party didn’t want to “turn into NPD 2.0”, a reference to a small neo-Nazi party that has existed since the 1960s.
Mrs Merkel has been the main winner of the crisis, with the public strongly supporting her calm public leadership. Trust in the Chancellor has jumped 20 percentage points to 72 per cent since the start of the year. The AfD’s popularity has bottomed out at 10 per cent.
Germany reached a significant milestone over the weekend when the first state was able to report no new infections for a day. Saxony-Anhalt, a rural state in the east of the country, confirmed that no new cases had been reported over the previous 24 hours.