The AfD as a ‚Leaderless’ Right-Wing Populist Party. How the Leadership-Structure Dilemma Left an Imprint on the Party’s Leadership


Despite its right-wing populist character, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) shows no signs of a strong party leadership. We ascribe this state of the party leadership to the AfD’s institutionalization as a new party and show how organizational features interact with the skill set and goals of the party leaders. At the party level, we, firstly, outline the organizational change at the top of the party and the party leader selection rules. Secondly, we depict leadership turnover and competitiveness. At the leader level, we investigate the failure of Bernd Lucke, the key founder and one of the initial party leaders, as a manifestation of the leadership-structure dilemma of new parties. Embedded in a leadership team and faced with a growing extra-parliamentary party structure, Lucke tried to secure his initial autonomy and position of power by an attempt to become the sole party leader. His subsequent exit from the AfD laid bare the fact that he was not able to manage the challenges of the organizational consolidation phase, in which a new party needs a coordinator and consensus-builder. The AfD itself has proven its organizational autonomy from its initial leaders and its distaste for a strong and centralized party leadership. The barriers for the latter remain in place while, at the same time, the party institutionalization is still on-going, especially regarding its place in the German party competition.

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