People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 37

September 13, 2009

Germany: Left Gains in State Level Polls


Naresh �Nadeem�


HELD on Sunday, August 30, the state level elections in Germany have given a degree of boost to the Left, with analysts describing it as "a wake up call," a "shock" or a "setback" for the country�s chancellor, Ms Angela Merkel. No doubt these results do not pose much of a threat to her chances and she may possibly not lose the national elections scheduled for September 27 coming. But they may possibly upset her plans to cobble a new governing coalition for the country.


Some 6.2 million voters were eligible to cast ballots in these state elections.


Right now, Merkel is heading an uneasy coalition of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the social democratic SPD. But her hopes of ditching the SPD during the run-up to the general election, in favour of the pro-big business Free Democrats, appear to have narrowed down after the disappointing results of three state elections.


Though the Free Democrats also made some gains in the August 30 polls, their general secretary Dirk Niebel appeared nervous that the centre-right camp's strong lead would fizzle.


The CDU has, however, held onto power in the eastern state of Saxony, with its vote share remaining virtually the same at about 41 per cent. But anti-Merkel forces have registered some gains here as well.


Merkel is hoping to win a second term in the general election on September 27, and her CDU has a lead of about 15 per cent in the opinion polls over its present ally cum future rival --- the SPD.


In the recent state level polls, however, the most noteworthy gainer is Die Linke party on the left; it has made some impressive gains in all the three states where elections were held. It secured more than 20 percent of the votes in all the three states taken together, in comparison to the earlier state level polls when it never went beyond a single digit figure.


Die Linke is a relatively new party comprising disaffected SPD members and former East German communists


Die Linke�s leader, Oscar Lafontaine, described his party�s success in these polls as "an unprecedented victory in the history of German political parties." Lafontaine is a popular figure in his native Saarland though the anti-communist German media often describes him as a "divisive" figure.


Behind Die Linke�s success lie its clear-cut positions on the working class grievances and those of older East Germans. "Tax the rich" was, for example, one of its campaign slogans. The party is a strongly anti-bourgeois party and has a radical programme that includes the proposals like lowering the retirement age, increasing the unemployment benefits, and offering free education. It is also solidly against nuclear power, opposed the Iraq war, described the former US president George W Bush and former British prime minister Tony Blair as "terrorists," and demands that all the German forces, including those in Afghanistan, be called home. Die Linke also stands for a security alliance with Moscow. �They made former Nazis into chancellors and presidents,� was how the party described the mainstream conservative parties, including Ms Merkel�s Christian Democrats.


Die Linke has stood in clear contrast to the centre-right Christian Democrats as well as the centre-left social democrats whose positions are often indistinguishable from one another on many issues. 


Die Linke�s success comes in the midst of an adverse campaign in which a number of analysts and others pooh-poohed the party�s chances in the wake of the US presidential election and the global recession.


Apart from forging ahead in Thuringia in the east, Die Linke made for the first time a real inroad in Saarland that borders France in the west. From the earlier 2 percent, the party went to bag 21 percent of the votes in this state, giving rise to the talks that some others may invite it to be a partner in the state government.


After the votes were counted, German television channel ARD said, "In two of the three state elections on Sunday, there was a considerable shift in the balance of power. A change in government from conservatives to a coalition of the SPD and Left party is possible in Saarland and Thuringia."


Die Linke has now proposed to have a national level coalition with the SPD. The common talk now is that with this party's and the Green Party's support, the SPD may possibly upturn the present coalition�s cart and form the next government. Obviously, everything now depends on what position the SPD takes.


As it is now, the SPD may well form coalitions in Thuringia and Saarland with the Greens and Die Linke. If it happens, Saarland would be the first western state to see such a governing alliance.


The SPD's candidate for the chancellor's post in the general elections is Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who is also the deputy chancellor and foreign minister. He has expressed confidence that the coming elections would help turn the tide in his favour. "Those who said that the election was already decided have made a big mistake," he told his cheering supporters. Referring to the colours of Merkel's conservatives and the Free Democrats, he said, "One thing is sure --- this country does not want black-yellow."


On the other hand, CDU general secretary Ronald Pofalla expressed disappointment at the election outcome though he said the SPD would not gain much from the national polls. It is to be noted that the SPD did not make much gain in the elections in all the three states.


Political scientist Juergen Falter of the University of Mainz in western Germany said the state elections pointed to the widespread doubts about the centre-right alliance Ms Merkel is contemplating. "This option was always in danger and is still in danger," he told the daily Thueringer Allgemeine.


"One third of voters are still undecided for the general election and among them are many potential SPD supporters who, when it comes down to it, will grit their teeth and vote for the SPD. That is why it will be very close on September 27,� he added.


The state level polls have also ensured that Ms Merkel�s position would be quite weak when she goes to attend the G20 summit in the US on September 24 and 25, just two days before the national polls.