Sunday, September 18, 2005

Left Party doubles vote in Germany

The Left Party—an alliance formed by post-communists and defectors from Germany's ruling Social Democratic Party—has won 8.7 percent of the vote in today's federal election. The result more than doubles the party's previous score of 4 percent in 2002. In that election, just over 1.9 million voters supported the post-communists when the party failed to reach the five-percent threshold required for full representation in the German Bundestag (federal parliament). Today the Left won more than 4 million votes. As a result, its strength in the Bundestag will increase from two to at least 54 seats.

The party has surpassed the Greens to become Germany's fourth-strongest political force.

Today's vote leaves Germany in political chaos. The hoped-for conservative coalition of the conservative Union parties and the pro-business Free Democrats did not materialize. At the same time, the ruling SPD-Green coalition was voted out of office. Neither alignment has enough seats to form a majority government.

The Left Party need not apply

Germany's traditional parties have vowed never to enter into coalition talks with the Left, although theoretically a "red-red-green" government of the SPD, Left Party and Greens would command a stable majority. Otherwise, there are three possibilities open to Germany's political establishment:

Grand CoalitionCDU/CSU (black) + SPD (red)
"Traffic Light" CoalitionSPD (red) + FDP (yellow) + Greens
"Jamaica" CoalitionCDU/CSU (black) + FDP (yellow) + Greens

A fourth possibility is a minority coalition "tolerated" by one of the opposition parties. But the prospect of minority government horrifies many Germans, and the media aren't yet discussing the subject. Weak governments and frequent elections were a feature of the political landscape in the Weimar Republic, and Germans are reluctant to repeat that experience.

Disappointment for the conservatives

The result is a disappointment for the Union—Germany's conservative alliance of the Christian Democratic Union and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union. When SPD Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder called surprise elections in May, the conservatives were widely expected to win more than 45 percent of the vote with a clear mandate for social and economic "reforms" widely supported by Germany's corporate elite. Its natural partner was the liberal FDP, which traditionally has supported big business. But while the FDP surged ahead at the last minute to become the third-strongest party in the Bundestag, the Union's result was barely a percent ahead of the Social Democrats. As a result, the political picture is ambiguous at best.

The Left, once written off as a dying party of aging East German communists, returned from the grave with a professional campaign and the support of pro-labor voters in western Germany who deserted the SPD in protest over high unemployment and cutbacks in social services. Led by the charismatic post-communist politician Gregor Gysi and the equally charismatic former SPD leader, Oskar Lafontaine, the party vows to build a stable democratic alternative which in coming years will oppose reforms designed to weaken Germany's "social state."

In eastern Germany, the Left became the second strongest party with 25.4 percent of the votes—just ahead of the CDU but behind the SPD. In western Germany, it won 5.2 percent of the votes, a big improvement on its 2002 result of less than 2 percent.

Polls showed that about 11 percent of German voters were undecided until the last minute. Most of them decided to support one of the smaller parties, with the Left picking up the greatest share of undecided voters, followed by the FDP liberals and the Greens.

The final vote tally*

Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union35.2
Social Democratic Party34.3
Free Democratic Party9.8
Left Party8.7

*One district will vote next week: Dresden I. The outcome there may change the official results slightly.

More links on this subject

Left on the rise in Germany (news analysis)
New Left, Old Right


At 5:29 PM, Blogger Sylvia allein in Westfalen said...

Funny to find an article from the other side of the world dealing with our last election.
We have to thank god that CDU/CSU and FDP did not win this election.
Greetings from germany

At 9:45 PM, Blogger Andy Lang said...

Dear Sylvia, thanks for your note!

I also thank God that there's still a viable left alternative in Germany. Not so in the U.S.

Thanks for writing, and please visit us often.


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