Germany’s far-right Alternative (AfD) chose an Eastern decorator on Saturday backed by a radical wing within the party as one of the two co-leaders.
The election of Tino Chrupalla, a legislator from Saxony, is a tribute to the former communist states of the East, where AfD has made great profits in three elections this year.
He will lead the largest opposition party in Germany with Joerg Meuthen, professor of economics in the industrial state of southern Baden-Wuerttemberg, who serves as the legislator of the European Parliament.
"It is time to send a clear signal with double leadership composed of representatives from both east and west," Chrupalla told delegates, who elected him in a second round with more than 54 percent of the vote.
Meuthen secured re-election against two candidates with a two-thirds majority, which made a second round unnecessary.
"We must be fit to govern," Meuthen said. "This is our task for the next two years. My path is conservative, peaceful and patriotic."
AfD is the largest opposition party in the national parliament of the Bundestag, which it entered for the first time in 2017, driven by angry voters with the conservative decision of Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2015 to admit almost a million asylum seekers mainly Muslims.
The AfD, the the anti-migrant and anti-Islam party also sits on opposition banks in the 16 state parliaments of Germany, where it is excluded by all established parties, including the center-right Christian Democrats (CDUs) of Merkel and the Social Democrats center-left (SPD))
Alexander Gauland, 78, a unifying figure in AfD who has been co-leader since 2017, did not appear for re-election.
He has said he wants to pass the witness to a new leadership that ensures that the party joins the government coalition with the Merkel CDU, at least at the state level.
"They call us Nazis, fascists and right-wing terrorists," Gauland told delegates. "But we must be wise and resilient. The day will come when a weakened CDU has only one option: we."
Merkel conservatives have said they cannot work with AfD, saying that their anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic rhetoric contributes to an atmosphere of hate that encourages political violence.
Protests against AfD
When delegates began arriving at the Volkswagen Halle in the western city of Brunswick, hundreds of protesters waved rainbow flags, while some held banners that said: "Against AfD and its incitement."
Riot police surrounded by sand.
Volkswagen had asked the organizers to cover the name of the automaker that is usually located at the top of the site entrance.
Crying "Get lost!" and "All Germany hates AfD," protesters showed signs with slogans such as "There is no place for Nazis,quot; or "Stop the AfD."
The large number of people who appear in the city "is a clear sign that no one in Braunschweig wants AfD here," said Udo Sommerfeld, spokesman for the protest against the extreme right.
AfD won about a quarter of the votes in the elections in three eastern states this year. The party is more popular in the former communist eastern states, with twice the support it has in the west of the country.
"In a few years, we could have an AfD-CDU coalition, most likely at the state level in the east," said Matthias Quent, director of the Institute for Democracy and Civil Society.
"This could divide the CDU. Some members of the CDU in the east are openly in favor of that coalition."
He added: "The radicalization of AfD will definitely make it more difficult for the party to improve its number of polls in the west, where people are more alarmed by their ethnic nationalism than in the east."