Germany: Die Linke electoral breakthrough

Statement by Die Linke central office, Berlin

January 28, 2008 -- DIE LINKE (The Left) emerged successful from regional elections on Sunday, January 27, 2008, in the German federal states of Hesse and Lower Saxony. After the state of Bremen, where the party in May 2007 for the first time entered a West German federal state parliament, DIE LINKE will have parliamentarians in two further West German states.

In Lower Saxony (capital: Hannover), the party got 7.1% of the vote, while in Hesse (capital: Wiesbaden) it just stepped over the 5% threshold with 5.1%. In both counties, the big parties had tried to prevent DIE LINKE entering parliament with anti-communist campaigning.

In Hesse, the incumbent prime minister [premier] Roland Koch (Christian Democratic Union, CDU) failed with his strategy to win the elections with a polarising and populist election campaign, demanding draconian punishments for young delinquent immigrants. The CDU lost 12% and the absolute majority of the former CDU-FDP [Free Democrats] government. The rejection of the homophobic and racist rhetoric by the voters was widely commented as an encouraging signal.

The SPD [Social Democratic Party] election campaign was led by Andrea Ypsilanti, member of the left current of the SPD, and who appropriated important political messages of DIE LINKE (such as the minimum wage, reform of the school system and progressive tax reforms), trying to compete with DIE LINKE this way. DIE LINKE's top candidate in Hesse, Willy van Oeyen, a trade unionist and prominent representative of the German peace movement, announced that DIE LINKE would continue to pressure the SPD in order to make it act in the political direction it had promised during the election campaign. The composition of the future Hesse state government is still fairly vague because of the narrow majority situation.

In Lower Saxony, a structurally conservative state, DIE LINKE reached an unexpectedly high result. This might partly to be explained by the fact that no one had a doubt about a clear victory of the CDU and the incumbent Prime Minister Christian Wulff and his CDU-FDP coalition, unlike in Hesse where a neck-and-neck race between the two biggest parties had been expected. DIE LINKE's top candidate Tina Flauger announced that DIE LINKE would become a strong opposition force.

The German political landscape will be substantially changed by these two elections. A system of five relevant political parties is now being sustainably established, and thus not only at the national parliamentary level, but backed by the federal state parliaments.

Lothar Bisky, chairperson of DIE LINKE, stated in a press conference: “We have caused a shift of the political landscape. With regard to the total number of mandates, we are the third political force in Germany. DIE LINKE takes effect.” And he added: “We made a big step forward in our party building process. To enter the parliament in two big federal states is an important milestone and a breakthrough. We are now on the way towards the regional elections in Hamburg (February 24) and the local elections in Bavaria (March 2) and Schleswig-Holstein (May 25).”

Oskar Lafontaine, chairperson of DIE LINKE, said: “Even more important than the entry of DIE LINKE into parliament is to change by these elections the social climate in favour of all those who rely on social justice. I am predicting that in the question of the pension formula or in social policies, the CDU-SPD coalition will have to make concessions towards us, as they have suffered substantial losses in votes.” And referring to DIE LINKE positions in regional politics, he declared: “We are the party against privatisation, for the system of non-denominational schools, for studies free of charge, for the maintenance of energy and gas prices directed by municipalities, for safe jobs in public services, for tendering procedures implying social standards such as minimum wages.”

Another important vote took place last Sunday in the town of Leipzig: In the first referendum in the history of the city, 87% of the participating citizens voted against the privatisation of the municipal utility company. The referendum had been supported by DIE LINKE.

Hesse (polling: 2008 64.3%; 2003 64.6%):



CDU (Christian Democrats)

36.8 % (42 seats)

48.8 % (56 seats)

SPD (Social Democrats)

36.7 % (42 seats)

29.1 % (33 seats)

FDP (Liberal Democrats)

9.4 % (11 seats)

7.9 % (9 seats)

GRÃœNE (Greens)

7.5 % (9 seats)

10.1 % (12 seats)


5.1 % (6 seats)

0.0 % (0 seats)

Other parties

4.4% (0 seats)

4.1% (0 seats)

Lower Saxony (polling: 2008 57.0%; 2003 67.0%):



CDU (Christian Democrats)

42.5 % (68 seats)

48.3 % (91 seats)

SPD (Social Democrats)

30.3 % (48 seats)

33.4 % (63 seats)

FDP (Liberal Democrats)

8.2 % (13 seats)

8.1 % (15 seats)

GRÃœNE (Greens)

8.0 % (12 seats)

7.6 % (14 seats)


7.1 % (11 seats)

0.5 % (0 seats)

Other parties

3.9% (0 seats)

2.0% (0 seats)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 03/06/2008 - 09:54


March 1, 2008 - Elections in Germany: Die Linke Further Challenges the Rules of the Political Game

Hamburg: For the third time in the last few weeks, Die Linke (the Left, as the new party is called) has made an entrance into the Parliament of one of Germany’s western “Länder”. Die Linke (the Left) emerged as the real winner of last Sunday’s parliamentary election in the city-state of Hamburg. For the third time running in a few weeks, Oskar Lafontaine and Lothar Bisky’s party succeeded in winning more than the minimum 5% required in one of Germany’s western Länder. It now has eight seats in the Hamburg Parliament. The new electoral deal disrupts the political scene and looks to jeopardize negotiations toward the setting up of a coalition government to run the Hanseatic city. As in the Land of Hesse where real negotiations over the Land’s future executive have not even started yet, Die Linke’s share of parliamentary seats makes classical coalitions impossible, whether on the right between the CDU’s Christian Democrats and the FDP’s “Liberals” or on the left between the SPD’s Social Democrats and the Greens. Although it came in an easy first last Sunday, Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Party (CDU) was by far the greater loser of that election. Not only was its share of the vote down by three points but it also lost the absolute majority it had won in 2004, and it cannot rely on its traditional partner the FDP to supply the missing votes, for the FDP failed to get the minimum 5% required for a party to wint seats in Parliament. Ole von Beust, the incumbent Christian Democrat Bürgermeister (Mayor), made the first move and launched a charm offensive aimed at the Greens with whom he says he is ready to govern. But even though a far from negligible section of the Greens has come out in favour of opportunistic alliances (with either left or right parties as circumstances dictate), it will be difficult to draft a common platform that Grünen members could unanimously approve. The CDU’s leader might also turn to the SPD to form a grand coalition on the model of the ruling coalition in Berlin. But Social Democrats do not seem to be very keen on that option as they are currently struggling to make good the disastrous reflection of this “united front” at the national level on their image and on their credibility with their own voters. Especially so, as increasing social difficulties, a palpable loss in purchasing power, unprecedented and ever rising inequalities and social injustice have become much debated political issues over which the party is being increasingly called to account. There is no question that the climate of opinion has indeed contributed a lot to the success of Die Linke; the new party has been most vocal on these issues, which used to be the SPD’s core issues. The possibility that Die Linke might be called upon to support a regional coalition government without actually joining it, or even to participate in a regional coalition government, began to be the subject of debate even before the election results in Hamburg were known. The question so far had been a taboo subject. Kurt Beck himself, the SPD’s president, hinted for the first time at the possibility that he might negotiate in Hesse for Die Linke’s support without the new party - which results from a merger between the Linkspartei PDS and the Wahlalternative (WASG) - participating in the government. That would be the only way that he could have Andrea Ypsilanti, the SPD’s regional leader, elected Minister-President. Die Linke at once responded favourably to the proposal in order to eliminate Roland Koch, the far-right incumbent Minister-President. Nothing is certain as yet. But dividing lines are obviously shifting and the German press is buzzing with speculation over the possibility of triple alliances (between the SPD, the Grünen and Die Linke or between the CDU, the FDP and the Grünen), which would be the only way out of the political impasse, following the sudden emergence of Die Linke on the scene. The prospect of taking part in government at the regional, or even national level (after the next Bundestag election in September 2009) has come under debate within the new leftist party. The necessity for the party to shoulder governmental responsibility is generally set on a par with the need to stand firm on a number of basic demands like the bringing home of all the troops deployed in Afghanistan or the repeal of the Hartz IV package that left the jobless unprotected and liberalized the job market to an unprecedented degree. The ratification of the Lisbon treaty was another issue that imposed itself in the debate. In the Berlin Land, the only Land where Die Linke governs jointly with the SPD, the social-democrat Bürgermeister Klaus Wowereit would like the Berlin deputies in the Bundesrat (Parliament’s upper chamber) to vote for the treaty. The executive committee of the party’s Berlin branch had come out in favour of the now defunct Giscard constitution in its time and like Member of the European Parliament Sylvia Yvonne Kaufmann, author of a recently published plea for the new text, is said to be in favour of ratification. The prospect raises many protests in a movement where a majority of members opposed the former treaty: “That certainly is the best way to torpedo the party’s credibility”. They ask the Berlin executive committee not to make inconsistent decisions and to turn down Wovereit’s request even if it should jeopardize the future of the SPD-Die Linke coalition. Oskar Lafontaine himself stepped in and voiced his objections, saying that it was precisely the Linke’s responsibility never to depart from the naked truth, for which the party had gained credit, when all other parties kowtowed to free-market zealots. This article first appeared in French in L’Humanité, the French progressive daily, and was translated by Isabelle Metral.

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Thu, 03/06/2008 - 10:08


Hamburg and the Horns of a Dilemma
by Victor Grossman

There was plenty of suspense Sunday evening in Hamburg, Germany's second biggest city.  Would the mayor, Ole von Beust, win a majority again and keep ruling the city-state without requiring support from any other parties?  Or could the Social Democrats, possibly with the help of the Greens, overtake him and regain control of a city which they had ruled for many decades?

But the biggest question was: could the young party called The Left, whose predecessor, the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS), was never able to break out of its East German strongholds, now continue its march westwards with the aid of the young new western group it had joined up with?  Last spring it won its first seats in a West German provincial legislature in the city-state of Bremen.    Then in January, in two sensational election campaigns, it won seven percent of the vote in Lower Saxony and just above the required five percent in Hesse, thus getting deputies in both.  Would it continue upsetting worn-out apple carts in the city-state of Hamburg as well?

It sure did!  On Sunday it won just about 6.5 percent, meaning 8 seats in the provincial legislature.

Die Wahlergebnisse in Hamburg
SOURCE: "Die Wahlergebnisse in Hamburg," Der Spiegel, 24 Febraury 2008.

The results of these victories are far more important than the single digit results would indicate.  Until now, if no one party had an absolute majority, the provincial governments were often ruled by a coalition, usually either the two right-wing parties, Christian Democrats and Free Democrats, or the two supposedly left-of-center parties, the Social Democrats (SPD) and the Greens.  Sometimes, when this didn't add up, the two big parties, Christians and Social Democrats, would join to form a Grand Coalition.  This is what happened on the national level with Angela Merkel and her CDU sharing the government with the SPD.

But in Hesse it hasn't worked out.  The SPD there can hardly join with the Christian Democrats, whose head, Ronald Koch, ran an extremely nasty campaign based on hatred toward "foreigners," especially young immigrants, which almost descended to the level of the neo-Nazis.  The SPD leader fought him very hard and tried to sound more leftish than usual.  But alas, the Greens did not win enough seats to form a government with them either.  The only logical conclusion would seem to be a coalition with the Greens but with The Left agreeing not to vote against it.  The Left offered this solution.

But the SPD had sworn never to work together with those nasty Left people under any circumstances.  Weren't they mostly old Communists from the East or renegade Social Democrats from the West?  If the Social Democrats stuck to this pre-election pledge, they would automatically bar themselves from ruling Hesse and Ronald Koch might stay in power.  A few SPD leaders have begun to weaken -- and approve an agreement with the Left -- while others showed outrage at the idea.  It is still up in the air.

And now Hamburg.  With the entry of The Left into the city-state legislature, nobody has a majority here either.  The Christian Democrats lost votes but remained the strongest.  Since their buddies and allies, the Free Democrats, got only 4.8 percent of the vote, they are out of the legislature and out of the running altogether.

This leaves the city with only three choices.  The Social Democrats could join the Christian Democrats in a Grand Coalition like the one on the national level.  But they hate the idea.  Both big parties are busy jockeying for position ahead of the next national elections in 2009, and the SPD is trying to lose the bad reputation it earned of turning to the right, placating big business at the cost of working people, policies which have been sending more and more of its members and supporters to The Left.

The second choice would be for the Greens to swallow any and all remaining principles and form a coalition with the Christian Democrats, giving up their main planks on equal education for all and stopping further pollution.  This would be the first such coalition on a provincial scale and would surely cost them a large number of their grassroots membership all over Germany, often sending them leftwards.

The third choice, as in Hesse, would be for the SPD and the Greens to form a coalition with an agreement for The Left to support them.  Of course this would mean giving The Left a veto power over any reactionary decisions they might come up with.  If they avoid any more such rightward moves, they would be OK.  And this arrangement is the only way for the SPD to get back into leadership.  It would naturally require an alteration of long established red-baiting.

Before the Hamburg election, the leading candidate of the SPD, Michael Naumann, a well-known publisher, said he would never work with The Left (he said: "Nein, nein, nein, nein, nyet" -- his attempt at either humor or irony).  Will his party keep to this position, cutting off its nose to spite its face?  Or will it overcome its prejudice and face up to the fact that Germany's voters are sick of the corruption, the lopsided economy with its growing hardships and widening income gap, and the giant expense of foreign military ventures?  And that they seem to be moving leftwards?

Of course, below-the-belt attacks against The Left are increasingly prevalent in nearly all of the media.  Many old-time politicians are getting more and more worried about a development they can no longer ignore.  And with The Left winning such first-time victories in one province after the other and already gaining first place in opinion polls in the five East German provinces, this situation may well dominate the national elections next year.  Almost anything is possible.
Victor Grossman, American journalist and author, is a resident of East Berlin for many years. He is the author of Crossing the River: A Memoir of the American Left, the Cold War, and Life in East Germany (University of Massachusetts Press, 2003)

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Wed, 03/12/2008 - 11:16


Interview on cooperation with SPD

In an interview with daily Märkische Allgemeine
Parliamentary secretary of DIE LINKE
in the Bundestag, Ulrich Maurer, answered
questions pertaining to possible cooperation
with the SPD, which is much in debate
now in the media.

› Mr Maurer, DIE LINKE won 6.4% of the
votes in Hamburg. Are you satisfied or
did you expect more?

“Given the massive campaign against us
in public I am very satisfied.”

In Hesse DIE LINKE is something that
can tip the scales.

Will your MPs support
SPD candidate Andrea Ypsilanti should
she run for Prime Minister?

“Yes, but only under the condition that
Mrs Ypsilanti makes good on her campaign

› Which means you demand talks?

“Only voting for her and then keeping quiet
is not what we have in mind. We expect a
majority in parliament to be found immediately
for abolishing tuition fees for example.”

› The SPD leadership has given their
state organisations a free hand in how to
deal with DIE LINKE. Do you expect any
concrete offers now?

“The SPD must make up their minds
whether or not they want to go down as the
eternal junior partner of the CDU or whether
they will have Prime Ministers or Chancellors.
In this respect cooperation would mainly
benefit the Social Democrats.”

› Yet, DIE LINKE would also benefit. An
alliance would make it acceptable in the

“We are getting acceptable because
more and more voters support us. Otherwise
this is not a consideration.”

› What would it mean to you if the first
coalition of the CDU and Greens would
be forged in Hamburg?

“I don’t really see such a coalition on the
horizon. If at all this happens part of the
Green voters and members will probably
turn to us.”

› Arithmetically there is also a left majority
at national level – if you can call
that the votes for the SPD, Greens and
DIE LINKE.Will this ever be a functioning

“I think for the foreseeable future the
SPD won’t be strong enough. We will get
closer in the states if at all. However, even
there you find a strong resistance amongst
the neo-liberal wing of the SPD. Peer Steinbrück
(SPD Finance Minister in the federal
government – the edit.) for instance threatened
Mrs Ypsilanti that not all the SPD MPs
would vote for her as Prime Minister in

› What role does Lafontaine as a person
play in terms of possible alliances?

“This is a completely apolitical issue,
which the Social Democrats use as a pretext.
Not just a few of those who now say
they could never work with him have bent
over backwards time and again just to stay
in power. I think that lacks credibility.”

From Newsletter No. 2-08 of the party DIE LINKE (March 2008)