Thursday, September 15, 2005

Thoughts On The German Elections

After the victory of party macho extraordinaire Gerhard Schröder over party enfant terrible Oskar Lafontaine (nicknamed "Red Oskar") shortly after the 1998 Social Democrat/Greens election victory, all mainstream parties in Germany fell in line behind the neoliberal economic mindset.

For the Left, this proved disastrous: the repeated appeasing of the business lobby and anti-welfare-state 'reforms' only alienated own voters, while the private economy didn't "thank" with either creating more jobs or at least electoral support: these moves not only didn't solve economic problems, but worsened the situation, which led to demands for even more 'reforms' from the business community. All the while, only the Green junior coalition party pursued progressive policies, only to be undercut by SPD politicians serving some lobby (most notably current economy minister Wolfgang Clement, a persistent and extremely dishonest propagandist against wind power for the coal industry).

Disproving the centrist mantra that campaigning for a progressive policy too clearly loses votes, Schröder narrowly won re-election in 2002 with his stand against the Iraq war. But he didn't learn anything, blew it again over the next three years with more of the same. Then he called early elections. Then the unthinkable happened: the rise of a serious contender to the left. The SPD was forced to campaign again as a leftist party - and its numbers rose from the low twenties to 35% again. (Not that I'd expect its leaders from learning this time either, should they enter some government.)

That contender to the left came by due to extraordinary circumstances. Some West German SPD members fed up with Schröder left the party and formed the WASG political group (not a party). Meanwhile, in the East, there was the PDS, the heir of the onetime ruling party of the communist dictature, but one that unlike fellow post-communists in the region developed towards something progressive in the Western sense, due to its marginalisation: they had to fight for votes with the SPD, they are dominated by the onetime reform wing, they are cleared of anti-democratic tendencies or criminal networks given that they were monitored for a decade by the local equivalent of the FBI, and they assimilated a lot of progressive youth groups not affiliated with the ancien regime.

Now, separated, WASG and PDS wouldn't have stood a chance - and there were various animosities between the two. But then "Red Oskar" Lafontaine declared that he leaves the SPD, and will run for election only if WASG and PDS ally themselves on a single list. Even more than British counterpart Galloway, Lafontaine suffers from an oversized ego - but that alliance proved a powerful idea all in itself. What followed was an unprecedented pressure from the leftist public opinion on the foot-dragging parties, who in the end managed to agree, and now run under the name "Die Linke" (Left Party). (See a very illuminating interview with a WASG activist in English at Lenin's Tomb.) In the first enthusiasm they even polled at 15%, now back to 7-8%, the campaign of all parties and the potentials for after the election were completely changed.

From the last polls before election (this Sunday), and the last mandates projection (see "Sitzverteilung" table to the right), it looks like a conservative-(market)-liberal coalition (i.e. CDU/CSU+FDP) will just fall short of majority. A centre-left-hard-left coalition is presently considered a practical impossibility, so it will likely be a grand coalition - on the positive side, both Greens and Left Party can argue against its policies in Parliament and could benefit in opposition.

I hope the Left Party can develop into something serious, as the only strong voice against neoliberalism, and not end up relying on the contentious stardom of Lafontaine. While most attacks against Lafontaine from the mainstream press are unfair (his much thematised speech about "Fremdarbeiter" was taken entirely out of context, but read on this the above linked interview at Lenin's Tomb), his last book includes some rather questionable culturalist passages - a departure from his demand years ago for a changed sense of "German-ness". Meanwhile, I also hope the Greens can reinvigorate themselves, as the only strong voice for seriously tackling the problems of global warming, Peak Oil and industrial farming, and not end up relying on the contentious stardom of current foreign minister Joschka Fischer.

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