Thursday, February 28, 2008

Germany: Another electoral victory for the left

On February 24, the left-wing party Die Linke extended its recent run of breakthroughs in German regional elections, winning eight seats in the Hamburg state parliament. 

Die Linke's win, with 6.4% of the vote, cements it as the third party in German politics, after the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD).

It now has seats in 10 out of 16 state parliaments - including four in the former West Germany. It also has a national approval rating of 13%, and is stronger than the SP in the former East Germany.

In Hamburg, the CDU appears likely to retain power, despite dropping 5 percentage points to 42.6%. This is a result of the SPD, which scored 31.4% (its worst result since World War II), have refused to negotiate with Die Linke. Along with the Greens, Die Linke and the SPD have won a majority.

While Die Linke remains open to alliances with the SPD - despite SPD's support for neoliberalism and the rotten record of such alliances in places like Berlin - the SPD refuses to countenance such alliances in the west because of Die Linke's history.

Die Linke was formed out of the recent unification of the Party for Democratic Socialism (the successor to the former ruling party of East Germany), and the WASG, an alliance of west German leftists dominated by ex-SPD members.

With the SPD refusing to enter alliances with Die Linke in the west, German politics is rapidly approaching deadlock. Hesse, for instance, remains without a new government one month after its elections.

In Hamburg there are now suggestions that, with its traditional allies the right-wing Free Democrats having won no seats, the CDU may enter an alliance with the supposedly "left" Greens (which has supported sending German troops to help occupy Afghanistan).

The Hamburg poll was also marked by a record low turnout, reflecting Germany's souring political climate. On top of rising unemployment, reactionary social policies, and an increasing gap between rich and poor, Germany has recently been scandalised with revelations that the country's richest have been using Liechtenstein as a tax haven to avoid payments.

In this context, the rise of the anti-war, people-oriented policies of Die Linke has radically altered the political landscape. Despite constant attacks by the right-wing media, Die Linke continues to score victory after victory, and looks likely to keep ruffling the feathers of the traditional parties over the next year.

As Die Linke spokesperson Gregor Gysi said at a recent election rally, "Without us, it would be deadly boring".

First published in Green Left Weekly, February 28, 2008

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