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Angela Merkel

Confronted with a dramatic fall in popularity and a long series of lost lander [state — ed.] elections because of his neo-liberal economic and social policies and his brutal dismantling of the German welfare state, the chancellor seized what he saw as his last chance for a mandate from the voters to stay in power.

The SPD [Social Democratic Party — ed.] and the Greens made their "reform" of the German economic and social systems the focal point of their campaign strategy, arguing that there was no alternative. They promised their parties and the voters a continuation of their policies.

The conservative CDU/CSU [Christian Democrats — ed.] and the liberal FDP [Free Democrats — ed.] answered with an even more neo-liberal program of economic and tax policies.

Schröder’s initiative was a surprise attack on his political opponents, aimed at preventing them, by an extremely short election campaign, from unfolding alternative programs. It was especially aimed at the two formations of the German Left — the PDS [Party of Democratic Socialism — ed.] and the Election Alternative for Employment and Social Justice (WASG), the latter newly founded on the basis of last year’s strong protest movement against Schröder’s policies.

But in just three months the two organizations negotiated an agreement to cooperate and to avoid a situation in which each would prevent the other from breaking the five percent threshold needed to enter parliament.

It was not possible, in the short time available, to implement the agreement of their leading bodies to merge into a united political party. The PDS changed its name to Left Party, with the possible suffix "PDS" [by each state organization — ed.], and opened its candidate lists to representatives of the WASG and other personalities of the Left.

The conservative CDU/CSU and the liberal FDP fought a confrontational campaign, attacking all measures of the red-green government, which had been introduced partly with their cooperation.

Frightened by the broad resonance the actions of the Left Party among the public, the SPD and the Greens turned up their left- wing rhetoric, promising minor corrections of their policies, attacking the plans of their bourgeois opponents to further sharpen the anti-social "reforms" that they themselves had started. Sometimes the campaign looked like a fight between a virtual red- green opposition against a virtual conservative-liberal government, leaving the public more and more confused. When the campaign started, most opinion polls gave the conservative CDU/CSU close to an absolute majority, the SPD had fallen to under 30 percent, and the Left Party stood at about 4 percent. The conservative and liberal camp [that is, the CDU/CSU and its allies — ed.] was regarded by most observers as the likely winner of the elections.

The results of these elections belie the forecasts of virtually all pollsters and media. Contrary to their predictions, the losers were the two big parties. The red-green government was voted out, but their conservative-liberal rivals were not voted in. Thus the German voters have clearly given a stop sign to the neo- liberal, anti-social politics of Chancellor Schröder as well as to his conservative rival Angela Merkel, who explicitly wanted to carry them on in a sharpened version. The smaller parties either maintained or considerably strengthened their positions. The turnout, predicted by the polls to be much higher than in 2002, was 77.7 percent, 1.4 percent lower than three years ago.

The results were met with open disappointment by the Big Business associations and by right-wing governments abroad, who had hoped for a thorough change of government in Germany.

Although the conservative Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU) became the strongest party, they fell short of their objective of being able to form a right-wing coalition with the liberal FDP. Their result of 35.2 percent and 225 seats (out of a total of 613) is the third lowest in the history of the party — a further drop of 3.3 percent and 23 seats from the election of 2002, which they lost. The dramatic drop, in just four months, from nearly 50 percent in the polls to this result is seen as mainly the responsibility of their candidate for chancellor, Angela Merkel, who was no match for Schröder as orator and media star.

But she is also blamed for political mistakes. Some of her steps — an announced VAT [value added, or sales, tax — ed.] increase as well as her naming of an economics professor known for defending a flat income tax of 25 percent for everybody as her future finance minister confirmed the fears of potential voters of even more reckless economic and social policies under her government.

Disparaging remarks by CDU/CSU leaders about East Germans, including by Bavarian prime minister Edmund Stoiber, cost the party more votes in that region. Even these outbursts could not prevent Stoiber’s CSU from falling to a historic low in his native Bavaria [in western Germany — ed.]. It got only 49.3 percent, losing more than 9 percent compared to 2002. With the lead over the SPD being so tiny, it is unclear whether Merkel will be able to form a majority government coalition.

The governing Social Democratic Party (SPD) had one of the worst performances in its history. It was further weakened compared to the 2002 elections, which it won by a narrow margin. This time it came in second, with 34,3 percent of the vote and 222 seats, a loss of 4.2 percent and 29 seats. Consequently, the Red-Green alliance fell far short of their declared aim of renewing their governing coalition. Nevertheless, in the final phase of the campaign the SPD managed a comeback of 10 percent. It became the strongest party in all six lander of Eastern Germany. The SPD lost voters mainly to the Left Party and to the category of non-voters. Chancellor Schröder, conducting an intense campaign characterized by abundant left demagogy, managed to come close to his conservative rivals’ poor result, but could not overtake them. Nevertheless, he has announced his intention to form a governing coalition.

The liberal Free Democratic Party FDP is among the winners in this election. From an early low standing in the polls it received 9.8 percent and 61 seats, an increase of 2.4 percent and 14 seats, making it the third largest party in the new Bundestag. This party, which went into the elections as a coalition partner of CDU/CSU, nevertheless spoke out against Merkel’s plan for a 2 percent VAT increase.

A large number of right- wing voters opposed to the VAT increase gave their second (party) vote to the FDP to strengthen the FDP’s position in the coalition, thus weakening the CDU. The FDP has excluded taking part in a so-called traffic light coalition with SPD and Greens.

By waging a skillful campaign the Green Party avoided being punished as severely as the SPD for the politics of the red-green government. With 8.1 percent of the vote and 51 seats they are now the smallest party in parliament, dropping by 0.5 percent in votes and losing 4 seats. Some ecological achievements (planned closures of nuclear energy plants, consumer protection measures, etc.) as well as foreign policy initiatives worked in their favor in the eyes of their loyal voters. Besides, the socio-cultural constituency of the Greens has not yet been hit hard by the government’s social policies.

The Left Party-PDS is the winner of these early elections. Under difficult conditions, with a new partner, while being opposed by all the other parties and large parts of the media, it reached its main goal
— to enter parliament with its own group. The party more than doubled its vote of 4 percent in 2002. The 8.7 percent of the vote and 54 seats it received are an increase of 4.7 percent and 52 seats. The best news is that the cooperation with the WASG worked fully, creating a qualitatively new outcome that far exceeds the sum of the two organizations’ expected separate results. It is very significant that it exceeded the 5 percent threshold in most of the country, including in 6 of the 10 lander of Western Germany. In the Western lander the party won altogether 4.9 percent of the vote. The best results were achieved in the Saarland (Oskar Lafontaine’s homeland) with 18.5 percent, Bremen with 8.3 percent and Hamburg with 6.3 percent. In the East the Left Party-PDS received 25.4 percent.

Even in the lander where it was participating in government, a highly controversial policy among its followers, the Left Party-PDS scored large increases: in Mecklenburg- West Pomerania 7.3 percent (to 23.7 percent altogether) and in Berlin 5 percent (to 16.4 percent altogether). The only two PDS deputies from 2002-2005, Petra Pau and Gesine Lötzsch, won again in their Berlin constituencies. The third direct mandate was taken by Gregor Gysi, also in Berlin. Thirty Left Party-PDS deputies were elected in the East, 24 in the West of the country.

This election has changed political life in Germany. For the first time since the 1950s there is a nationwide political force to the left of the SPD. The Left Party- PDS will continue to fight against the dismantling of the German welfare state, the redistribution of wealth from the poor to the rich, the sending of German troops into military action abroad. As Gregor Gysi stated at a press conference after the vote, the party will support neither the neo-liberal politics of Schröder, nor those of Merkel. Party chair Lothar Bisky, speaking for the National Executive Board, proposed to the new parliamentary group that they elect Gregor Gysi and Oskar Lafontaine as their co-chairs.

The Left Party-PDS did not achieve its goal of becoming the third largest force in the Bundestag and the strongest force in the East of the country, which had seemed possible, based on the first polls which expressed less the hard realities than the expectations of the people.

The Left Party-PDS, the only one whose program includes many demands of trade unions and social and anti-globalization movements, will provide a strong voice in parliament of resistance to neo- liberalism and the militarization of foreign policy, thus increasing its impact. It will be supported by the actions of these movements, which are expected to develop and grow, given the announced plans of all the other Bundestag parties.

The 3rd Session of the 9th Congress of the Left Party- PDS will convene on December 10-11, 2005, in Dresden. There, political and organizational questions of the party’s further development will be discussed. Practical steps to advance the merger of the Left Party- PDS with the WASG will proceed as planned and as described in our info of August 26, 2005. This will be a pluralistic party, bringing together the varied outlooks, experience and biographies of reformed communists, left social democrats, trade unionists, anti-globalization activists and other personalities of the Left, of politically active people from the East and West of Germany — a historic process that may be of interest beyond the borders of Germany.

The question of the composition of the new German government remains open. There are three main variants: so-called street-light coalitions of SPD, Greens and FDP or CDU/CSU, FDP and Greens as well as a grand coalition of SPD and CDU/CSU. The postponed voting for three seats in one Dresden constituency on October 2 can not substantially change the overall picture. In any case, the Left Party-PDS has a good opportunity to raise its profile as the only force consistently opposing the neo- liberal policies of the German political class.