BREMEN, Germany (Reuters) - The founder of the eurosceptic Alternative for Germany party that has been siphoning votes from Angela Merkel's conservatives urged an AfD congress on Saturday to stop making itself look foolish and choose a single leader.
Bernd Lucke told 1,700 delegates in the northern port city of Bremen that the two-year-old AfD, Germany's fastest growing party that has soared to 7 percent in national polls, needs to dispense with its tripartite leadership in order to succeed.
"We're not a bowling club or a rabbit breeding society that we can run in our spare time," Lucke said in a speech. "How did the party leadership work these two years? Here's my one-word answer: 'Botched'. We can't continue like this."
The other two leaders, Frauke Petry and Konrad Adam, voiced reservations about what they saw as Lucke's grab for control after the AfD scored stunning wins with an anti-foreigner tack in three east German regional elections in late 2014.
Under a deal reached by the party executive, delegates will vote on whether to switch from three to two leaders in April and then to one in December. Votes on who will ultimately lead the party will be taken later this year.
Many delegates to the at-times raucous congress spoke out against Lucke, reflecting divisions in the AfD between its anti-euro zone bailout founders and the increasingly powerful eastern wing that wants to attract far-right voters.
Chancellor Merkel and her Christian Democrats hope the AfD, founded by Lucke and other ex-CDU members upset over her pushing the party left, will self-destruct over their internal strife.
But renewed turmoil in the euro zone -- a Greek election that brought anti-austerity Syriza to power and German financial angst about European Central Bank moves to help recession-ridden euro zone economies -- has heightened the AfD's prospects of winning seats in next month's Hamburg regional election.
Lucke has fought a spectacular public battle to demote his two co-leaders, who are popular with the AfD's far-right wing. They called Lucke a "control freak" with a "despot-like style of leadership" while his allies denounced his naysayers.
Lucke, an economics professor, rejected arguments that the AfD would be better off by keeping three equal leaders.
"We'll make ourselves look ridiculous to the voters," he said. "I'm not doing this for personal power but because I want the party to succeed."
(Editing by Mark Heinrich)
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