Friday, 25 January 2008

Germany: Elections coming up in Hesse and Niedersachsen

This Sunday, January 27, there will be two simultaneous state elections in Germany: in the centre of finance capital, Hesse, and in Niedersachsen (Lower Saxony). In Hesse at least, the country's new left-wing party Die Linke ("The Left") looks likely to make the five percent necessary to make history and send a representative to state parliament.

In this they are likely to be aided by popular outrage (even Günter Grass weighed in) at the xenophobic comments made by incumbent right-wing CDU governor Roland Koch in the wake of the assault on a pensioner in December. While Koch is no longer banging on about "young, foreign criminals" (comments, and an approach, for which the far-right NPD began to give him glowing comments), he has shifted his campaign focus to the "dangers" presented by leftist politicians and their ideas, which might be of even more use for Die Linke, if they can keep their act together and exploit the attention.

Their lead candidate is Willi van Ooyen, a veteran of the German pacifist movement and long-time unionist. However, all is not as it seems within Die Linke in Hesse (nor, indeed, at large): van Ooyen's candidature was imposed by the national headquarters in Karl Liebknecht House, Berlin, on the local Hesse branch, which is pack full of "unruly Maoists, Trotskyists, post-Maoists and post-Trotskyists", after they chose to pre-select the publicly communist Pit Metz for candidate.

There are also indications that van Ooyen favours the idea of working with the SPD and perhaps the Greens to break the power of the right-wing CDU on a national level. While this makes a certain degree of sense on a formal level, with the ostensible 'left' having a majority nationally that is made ineffectual by it's division into three parties, it is based on a potentially quite flawed and dangerous analysis, and one which is a bone of contention in Die Linke itself (not to mention the SPD) - that is, that the SPD and Die Linke both can and should work together. (Not to mention the Greens, who are still salivating over the invasion of Afghanistan, and sufferign internal ructions because of it).

The SPD itself has tacked leftwards a little recently, specifically to counter the effect of Die Linke on its popular base, even up to the point of symbolically reversing some (but not all) of it's highly unpopular "Agenda 2010" policy. In fact, the SPD is refusing even the idea of a coalition with Die Linke, at least at the national level, and especially in the West, where the scars of the recent split that led to the formation of Die Linke are still raw. It actually appears to be more obsessed with eradicating them, a task at which they will almost certainly fail, with yet-to-be-ascertained repercussions. The result in Hesse is likely to be an indication, and an important one, of whether their leftwards tack has succeeded.

By contrast, Die Linke, as a whole, is not opposed to collaboration. In Berlin, for example, they have been in coalition government with the SPD for some time, enforcing what can only be called neoliberal policies, to their own detriment in the polls and forcing a grass-roots rebellion. While this approach is more accepted in the East (where Die Linke is more dominated by members of the old PDS than the West (where the WASG dominates), it poses a potential point of ideological and practical divergence that may harm Die Linke in the future, especially as their polling results improve.

It is also important to note the relationship between falling support for Die Linke and rising support for the far-right (and vice-versa). There is certainly a trend in some areas, such as Berlin, that suggests that parties such as the NPD could benefit from disillusionment with Die Linke's bankrupt coalition in Berlin.

Still, a win for Die Linke in Hesse would be an almost unprecedented step in German politics since WWII. As Oskar Niedermayer, professor of political science at Berlin's Free University points out:

“By entering the parliament of a large west German state for the first time, the Left party would prove to voters and the bigger parties that it is here to stay.”

The very serious question that flows from that then becomes, what are they going to do with it? The wombats will be bringing more regular updates on Germany in the future as this exciting process unfolds.

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