Germany's anti-Islamic, anti-immigrant movement PEGIDA said on Monday it has launched a process to form a political party.
PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West) said the new party would work as an ally of the populist far-right group AfD (Alternative for Germany). The new grouping would be called the Popular Party for Freedom and Direct Democracy, or the FDDV by its German acronym, PEGIDA head Lutz Bachmann said at a meeting in Dresden, the movement's eastern stronghold.
“Scum” and “cattle”
Bachmann -- who was convicted and fined in May for inciting racial hatred by branding refugees "cattle" and "scum" on social media -- insisted he did not intend to stand for the leadership.
"I am still the Lutz of PEGIDA on the street," he said.
In January 2015, Bachmann resigned over a selfie with a Hitler-style moustache and hairstyle. However, he was reinstated few weeks later when PEGIDA’s leadership said that the picture had been doctored.
The move to form a party comes as authorities mull a ban for the original association which spawned PEGIDA over fears of growing extremism.
Bachmann insisted the new party would not seek to overshadow the AfD. The party has polled at more than 10 percent support in recent months.
The AfD was founded as a Eurosceptic protest party in 2013 but now mainly rallies against Islam and Germany's openness to refugees, which last year brought more than one million asylum seekers to Europe's top economy.
"We shall support the AfD in the next elections (scheduled for 2017) and shall only field candidates in a limited number of constituencies," Bachmann said.
He added that relations between the two far-right movements were mostly good and that "only together" could they serve their mutual cause.
Rifts within AfD
Cracks in the AfD have emerged in recent months, with a leadership split deepening after a row over anti-Semitic comments by one of the party's lawmakers, who labelled Holocaust deniers "dissidents".
There are also differences within the AfD on whether to embrace PEGIDA or keep the movement at arm's length.
The AfD has gained popularity for strongly criticising German Chancellor Angela Merkel for her open door policy for refugees.
Polls suggest that the party is on course to become the third most popular party in Germany.
After its success in Hesse state’s municipal elections with 13.2 percent of the vote on March 6, the party looks likely to win almost 20 percent in Saxony-Anhalt.