As Germany goes to the polls on Sunday in the general elections marking the end of Angela Merkel’s 16-year era, the far-left Die Linke party is more likely than ever to be part of a new government, despite its roots in the East. Germany’s ruling communists and radical foreign policy make it anathema to many voters.
Despite all the hypotheses about the post-voting governing coalitions that always characterize German election campaigns, never before has a red-red-green coalition – the Social Democrats (SPD), the Greens and Die Linke – seemed a serious possibility. .
This is astonishing because Die Linke (“The Left”) remains a fringe concern, not even guaranteed to get the minimum of five percent of the votes required to enter the Bundestag.
As former US President Lyndon B. Johnson said, the iron rule of politics is “learn to count.” After his chancellor candidate, Olaf Scholz, presented himself as Merkel’s heir, mimicking her art of turning lack of charisma into a selling point, the SPD established a long-standing lead in the polls. The latest polls show that Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) has eaten away at that lead, with the SPD now just three points ahead, but still, it looks like the SPD and the Greens may well put the numbers together for a coalition with a small dice. Linke Caucus.
“There are two factors that explain why a red-red-green coalition is now being taken seriously,” explained Thorsten Holzhauser, a political scientist at the Theodor Heuss Haus Foundation in Stuttgart and an expert on Die Linke.
“First, the SPD and the Greens, for once, did not rule out the possibility; secondly, according to some polls, a left coalition has the figures of an absolute majority in the Bundestag ”.
The ex-communists ‘used to power’
Although his Bundestag grouping is unlikely to exceed the five percent minimum, Die Linke is eager to rule. The party has published a Sofort program (a list of policies to implement immediately if it gains power).
On the surface, such an appetite for power in Germany’s democratic system seems surprising to a party descended from the Communist Party that ruled East Germany, and whose Bundestag bench is dominated by parliamentarians who oppose any compromise with the main parties.
But below the surface, Die Linke’s roots are one reason the party has such an appetite for power, Holzhauser said, noting that his East German communist ancestor was “very used to wielding power.” At the same time, he continued, the far-left party has become accustomed to a certain pragmatism in the federal regions of Germany, “making commitments to enter government at that level.”
About two decades ago, Die Linke’s ancestor, the Party of Democratic Socialism (PSD), struck deals to participate in various regional government coalitions in the former East Germany, including the Berlin region in 2002. Die Linke has even ruled in Red. Red-green coalition in the north-western city-state of Bremen since 2019.
However, the SPD and to some extent the Greens have been reluctant to bring the far-left party into government. Although Scholz has refused to rule out a coalition that includes Die Linke, he has expressed much more enthusiasm for ruling alongside the Greens.
“The centrist wing of the SPD is axiomatically anti-communist and wants nothing to do with the extreme left,” observed Holzhauser.
Scholz is very much a member of this centrist wing, one of the “least enthusiastic” about ruling with Die Linke, Holzhauser said.
Even before becoming Merkel’s vice chancellor and finance minister in 2018, the SPD chancellor candidate had already become a left-wing bête noir during his term as party secretary general from 2002 to 2004, under then-chancellor Gerhard Schroder. . In this role, Scholz was a cheerleader for Schroder’s flagship policy, the Agenda 2010 economic reform program, which cut both taxes and the German welfare system. Many international observers and voices on the German right credit this program with restoring the country’s economic dynamism and facilitating years of strong export-led growth, but the 2010 Agenda sparked fury among SPD leftists, who saw it as a betrayal of the principles of his party.
Consequently, the extreme left of the Social Democrats joined the PSD to form Die Linke in 2007, a major source of the SPD’s animosity against the left-wing party.
Alliance with Russia?
Foreign policy is another major source of tension between the SPD and Die Linke: the far-left party inherited some of the old anti-Western communist sensibilities. Despite removing the perennial demand to abolish NATO from its Sofort program, Die Linke continues to oppose the Western liberal democratic alliance: the party’s co-leader Janine Wissler said in a September 13 television debate that she wants to get rid of NATO. and replace it. with a broader alliance containing Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
It seems the Greens are also finding it difficult to digest: Chancellor candidate Annalena Baerbock clinched the party’s resignation from pacifism in November 2020, telling Suddeutsche Zeitung that Germany should increase defense spending and “strengthen European sovereignty. “while maintaining deep ties with the US.
Therefore, it is not surprising that after an unimpressive campaign under Chancellor candidate Armin Laschet, the CDU is enjoying a rebound in the polls after Laschet and Merkel began to emphasize the risk of Die Linke entering government. .
Holzhauser identified two more obstacles to Die Linke getting the five percent of the votes needed to enter the Bundestag: First, the far-left party is “highly divided between radicals and pragmatists”, and an image of disunity “plays badly. “with the Germans. electorate. Second, the party lacks a prominent figure with broad appeal like Scholz of the SPD and Baerbock of the Greens, which is crucial because many voters go to the polls “thinking about who they want to become the next chancellor.”
However, most members of the SPD and Green think their political agenda is “broadly compatible” with Die Linke’s, Holzhauser added.
But more importantly, the quest for power means that Scholz will likely overlook all these problems with Die Linke if they have MPs in the Bundestag who allow him to form a government, according to Suddeutsche Zeitung, a major voice on Germany’s dominant left.
This article was adapted from the original in French.