1 September 2005 Edition

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The World Today - New Left Party in Germany



When Germany goes to the polls on 18 September there will be two main questions in people's minds. The first is the size of the victory for the Christian Democrats led by Angela Merkel and whether she will have a sufficient base of support to displace the Social Democratic/Green coalition of Gerhard Schroder. The second is the fate of the recently formed Left Party.

In the last federal elections of 2002, left-wing voters across Germany had two choices — the Social Democratic SPD led by Schroder and the democratic socialist PDS led by Gregor Gysi.

Since 2002 there is a growing disillusionment among grass-roots SPD voters arising from the government's proposals for pension and welfare liberalisation.

While the PDS is the second largest party in the former eastern part of the country, its association with old-style communism has made it effectively unelectable in the former west. The result was that the PDS was unable to reach the 5% threshold nationally to secure representation in the federal parliament in 2002.

However, in June of this year the PDS signed a historic agreement, which could see a real left challenge to the Social Democrats. It has teamed up with the Election Alternative for Social Justice, a campaign group that has campaigned against welfare state liberalisation. The alternative is led by former social democratic Finance Minister Oskar Lafontaine. The alliance has been given the name of Left Party, and depending on the opinion polls is said to attract between 11% and 18% of the national vote. The consequences of such a result would be significant for the German left and the country's politics more generally.

Speaking after the launch of the Left Party, International Director, Helmut Scholz said that the new party wanted to attract people who have been turned off politics. "Germany is in a critical economic and social situation. We have to face up to the task. We have to find another direction." Scholtz said that left-wing voters felt betrayed by the SPD/Green coalition, which failed to change the policies of the previous right-wing government.

The Left Party opposes the proposed liberalisation of the country's welfare system. It is arguing for an overhaul of industrial and taxation policy. It is also committed to review Germany's membership of NATO and involvement in the ongoing occupation of Afghanistan.

It is too early to say just how well this new electoral coalition will do and whether it will remain together in the post-election climate. However, there is a real sense of optimism amongst many sections of the German left, and a sense of panic among many close to the social democrats.

As with the victory of the French left against the EU Constitution and the projected growth of the Dutch left in next year's national elections, many commentators across Europe are hopeful that the Left Party will play a part not just in the re-invigoration of the German left, but the left across Europe.

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