Germany’s far-left party picks two new faces
GOETTINGEN GERMANY’S troubled Left party picked two unknown newcomers at a party congress to try to lead it out of a crisis while spurning a popular eastern pragmatist in a move that may accelerate its demise and hurt Chancellor Angela Merkel’s re-election hopes.
The Left, Germany’s number two opposition party, elected an obscure western hardline leftist, Bernd Riexinger, instead of eastern pragmatist Dietmar Bartsch, an experienced campaign manager.
Katja Kipping, a littleknown easterner, was elected as co-chair at the annual party congress that ended on Sunday.
Several Left party leaders, an odd-couple marriage pitting pragmatic reform communists in the east against radical western leftists, admitted at the Goettingen congress they were worried about its survival in the wake of worsening east-west divisions.
The collapse of the Left party, which has fallen to about 7 percent in opinion polls from the 11.9 percent it won in 2009, is important to Merkel for two reasons: Firstly, pollsters say voters abandoning the Left are mainly returning to the centre- left Social Democrats (SPD) and, secondly, if the Left fails to clear the 5 percent hurdle in next year’s election that would lower the threshold for an SPD-Greens parliamentary majority to 45 to 46 percent of the vote.
The SPD and their Greens allies are currently polling 42 percent to about 38 percent for Merkel’s centre-right coalition of Christian Democrats and Free Democrats (FDP).
“Voters don’t like it when a party battles so openly like that,” said Richard Hilmer, managing director of the Infratest-Dimap polling institute, warning the battle between east and west could lead to a further erosion of support for the Left.
Some Left leaders, such as parliamentary leader Gregor Gysi, said a clean split might be the best option for the party. He attacked the party’s western wing in a remarkable speech. “I cannot accept all this arrogance towards easterners,” Gysi said. “It reminds me of the western arrogance towards the east at the time of German unification. Why can’t you accept that we’re a major political force in the east? And in the west just a small splinter party?” Gysi said the party, which is one of the biggest political forces in most eastern states, was filled with hatred at the moment and that he was fed up with the infighting.
“Either we’re capable of cooperating to pick leaders or we’re not. In that case, I’d say quite openly: it would be fairer if we simply split up than to continue a failed marriage filled with hatred, unfair tricks and dirty fouls.” The last time the Left’s forerunner party, the PDS, picked a little-known leader, it ended up falling short of the 5 percent hurdle with 4 percent in the 2002 vote.
Gabi Zimmer replaced the more colourful Lothar Bisky and Gysi in 2000. She quit in 2003.
More recently, the Left has failed to clear the hurdle in two major western states amid the inner party turmoil, Schleswig-Holstein and North Rhine-Westphalia.
Pollsters said they expected a similar drubbing in Lower Saxony in early 2013.
“Our polls are pointing in that same direction for Lower Saxony,” said Hilmer. Oskar Niedermayer, a political scientist at Berlin’s Free University, said voters who abandoned the centre-left SPD for the farleft Left party since 2007 are returning to the SPD. “We saw that trend quite clearly in North Rhine-Westphalia,” said Niedermayer.