The Guardian 28 September, 2005

Left breakthrough in German elections

For the first time there will be an influential force to the left of the social democrats in the Bundestag (parliament) following the elections on September 18. The ruling Social Democratic Party (SPD) and its alliance partners, the Greens, lost votes and seats and failed to regain a majority. The right-wing conservative Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU) also fell short of the necessary seats to win office. The new Left Party-PDS was highly successful, for the first time passing the five percent hurdle required to receive seats under the proportional representation system. It previously held two seats (by direct mandate). It now has 54 seats in the 613-seat parliament.

(Some seats are direct mandates from specific electorates and others based on proportional representation, with parties having to gain a minimum of 5% of the vote nationally to be allocated any seats from their list.)

Chancellor Shröder called the elections one year before the end of the term of the SPD/Greens government. The government was facing mounting opposition to its economic rationalist (neo-liberal) policies and had suffered a series of losses in regional elections. It decided not to wait any longer before facing the electorate.

The Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS — the former Socialist Unity Party of the German Democratic Republic) had wide support in the East but was held back by lack of votes in the more highly populated West.

The breakthrough in the months leading up to the elections came with close co-operation between the PDS and the Election Alternative for Employment and Social Justice (WASG), a newly founded party based on last year’s strong protest movement against Schröder’s policies in the western part of Germany. By co-­operating instead of competing with each other, and WASG’s support in the West, the Left Party-PDS list polled 8.7% nationally. The Left Party-PDS polled 42% in Berlin. In the West the best result was in Saarland, WASG leader Oskar Lafontaine’s homeland with 18.5%.

There are plans for the merger of the PDS and WASG which would bring together communists, left social democrats, trade unionists, anti-globalisation and other politically active forces from both the East and West of Germany into one national party, to the left of the SPD.

The Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) promised voters a continuation of their already unpopular policies and had one of the worst results in its history. It came in second with 34.3% of the vote and 222 seats — a decline of 4.2% and a loss of 29 seats. The SPD’s losses flowed mainly to the Left Party-PDS.

The CDU/CSU came in as the strongest party, but short of the necessary seats to form government in a coalition with the Free Democratic Party (FDP) with 61 seats. Their result of 35.2% and 225 seats is the third lowest in the party’s history — involving a loss of 3.3% and 23 seats.

It also failed to offer real change for the people of Germany. CDU/CSU leader Angela Merkel did not help by announcing a VAT (similar to our GST) increase and the nomination of an economics professor as the next finance minister, who supports a regressive flat tax of 25 percent for everybody — rich and poor alike.

The Green Party, riding on its ecological achievements (planned closures of nuclear energy plants, consumer protection measures etc.) as well as its foreign policy contained its losses to 0.5% and four seats. With 8.1% of the vote and 51 seats they are now the smallest party in parliament.

The German Communist Party (DKP) stood some candidates on the Left Party list, but they were too far down the list to have any prospect of being elected.

The fascists are another political force, lurking in the wings, with a vote as high as eight percent in Saxony by either a CDU/FDP of SPD/Green coalition. However, the two extreme-right parties — the National Democratic Party and the German People’s Union — only managed 1.6% nationally on a joint ticket.

With no party or existing group capable of forming a majority government in its own right, a number of options remain. These include: new elections; a CDU and SDP coalition; or minority governments. Regardless of who takes government, the "two-party" electoral system of Germany has been challenged with the election of a left force to the Bundestag that offers a genuine alternative to the policies of the right-wing and social democrat parties.

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