BERLIN (Reuters) - Swept into parliament by those Germans angered at the arrival of more than a million refugees and migrants, the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) had a stark message for Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday.
“We will hound her. We’ll get our country and our people back,” Alexander Gauland, 76, one of the party’s two leading candidates, told supporters to wild applause at a post-election celebration in a Berlin nightclub.
The first far-right party to enter Germany’s parliament in more than half a century, the AfD - which has been likened by Germany’s own foreign minister to the Nazis - won around 13 percent of Sunday’s vote, according to early projections.
That puts it on course to be the third biggest party in the new parliament after Merkel’s conservatives and the centre-left Social Democrats, both of whom saw their share of the vote fall amid the AfD surge.
Its campaign provoked controversy with posters featuring a pregnant women under the slogan: “New Germans? We’ll make them ourselves” and women in traditional Bavarian dress holding wine glasses with the words: “Burqa? I’m more into Burgundy”.
The party did particularly well in the former communist east Germany, where it won 22.9 percent of the vote - up 17 points from the last election in 2013, according to projections. In the west it won 11.3 percent, up 6.8 points from back then.
Although all established parties refuse to work with the AfD, its forecast 87 parliamentary seats mean it will now have a voice in the lower house of Europe’s richest country and become eligible for government funding tied to the size of its vote.
It rejects any comparison to the Nazis, instead insisting it raises valid concerns about immigration and what it calls the “Islamisation” of the West which are not being addressed by Europe’s mainstream politicians.
Alice Weidel, the AfD’s other leading candidate, promised supporters the AfD would do “constructive work” in opposition.
“The first thing we’ll do is keep our first promise to launch a committee to investigate Angela Merkel,” said the 38-year-old former investment banker, who argues Merkel’s 2015 decision to allow one million migrants into Germany was illegal.
Georg Pazderski, a member of the AfD’s executive board, told Reuters before Sunday’s election his party would use parliament speeches to draw attention to the cost of immigration and the shortcomings both of the single currency euro zone - which the AfD wants Germany to leave - and of the European Union.
He said he expected other parties to shun the AfD for a year or two but ultimately to work with it. He pointed to the regional assembly in the eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt where the AfD and Merkel’s Christian Democrats together voted to set up a committee to investigate left-wing extremism.
A recent study by the Ruhr University Bochum found that of the 235 candidates running for the AfD, 98 belonged to the wing that supports party official Bjoern Hoecke, who has courted controversy by denying that Adolf Hitler was “absolutely evil”.
It found 40 candidates were part of the party’s more moderate wing around co-leader Frauke Petry. She herself was once considered radical for overseeing the AfD’s transformation from a party set up by academics in 2013 to protest euro zone bailouts into a staunchly anti-immigrant party.
The other 97 candidates have been so inconspicuous up until now that their political orientation was not known, it said.
The AfD’s candidates include a judge who called Germany’s remembrance of the Nazi murder of six million Jews a “cult of guilt”, a 77-year-old who once called the Holocaust “an effective tool for criminalising Germans” and a lawyer who said police should be allowed to shoot at illegal migrants.
Reporting By Michelle Martin; editing by Mark John