BERLIN (AP) — Germany's justice minister accused Chancellor Angela Merkel's chief of staff on Thursday of playing into the nationalist Alternative for Germany's hands after he said it was better not to vote at all than to choose the anti-migration party.
"Telling people they shouldn't vote is helping AfD's campaign," Justice Minister Heiko Maas said in a video interview with the Bild daily. "That's exactly what they want."
Merkel's chief of staff Peter Altmaier made the comments earlier this week. He also said that "AfD divides our country, it exploits people's concerns and worries."
Maas is a center-left Social Democrat and Altmaier a member of Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats. Their parties currently govern together in a coalition of traditional rivals.
AfD looks set to enter parliament for the first time in Sunday's election, and is one of four parties vying for third place. Co-leader Alexander Gauland has already criticized Altmaier's "deeply anti-democratic comment."
Many of Merkel's campaign appearances, particularly in the ex-communist east where AfD is strongest, have been marked by loud heckling from pro-nationalist demonstrators. T
AfD has repeatedly courted controversy, most recently with a comment by Gauland that Germany has a right to be "proud of German soldiers' achievements in two world wars."
Asked in an interview with ARD public radio Thursday how politicians should deal with AfD when it enters parliament, Merkel replied: "We must speak clearly when fundamental values are at stake."
"My request to everyone (is) go and vote, and vote for the parties that are 100 percent committed to our constitution," she said.