The Social Democrats (SPD) are facing a growing challenge from Die Linke, a rival left-wing party, making it even more difficult to predict who will govern Germany after the 2009 general election.
The Left Party is closing the gap with its main rival as elections approach
Die Linke -- The Left Party, formed by communists from the former East Germany and Social Democrat (SPD) defectors, is now only five points behind the Social Democrats according to a poll conducted by Forsa and published by Stern magazine.
The Left Party scored an all-time high of 15 percent in the survey compared with 20 percent for the SPD.
Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative alliance of Christian Democrats and their sister party the Bavarian Christian Social Union scored 37 percent while the liberal Free Democrats, historically the CDU's preferred coalition partner, was on 12 percent. The Greens notched up 10 percent.
The CDU/CSU and the SPD, uneasy "grand coalition" partners since 2005, are both looking to ditch the other and form a government either alone or with a new partner in the September 2009 elections.
The radical cat among the mainstream pigeons
The Left Party's rise gives the SPD a headache as it is made up of rebel Social Democrats who have constantly attacked the SPD over its perceived straying from the socialist path, its business-orientated policies and its role in making Germany a military force in the world once more.
Lafontaine has been a thorn in the SPD's side for years
Since its formation just over a year ago, the anti-capitalist Left Party has shaken up Germany's political scene, establishing itself as a major force that the more established parties cannot ignore.
Tapping into public anger about rising poverty in Europe's most populous country, "fat cat" salaries for executives and the erosion of the welfare state, it now holds seats in 10 of Germany's 16 regional parliaments.
These seats are not only in the deprived, former communist East Germany but also in four states in the wealthier former West, including in the prosperous city-state of Hamburg.
Fiercely pacifist, the party under former finance minister Oskar Lafontaine wants Germany to withdraw troops from Afghanistan and to haul Germany out of the NATO military alliance.
It is also strongly eurosceptic and promises the throw budgetary austerity in Europe's biggest economy to the wind once in power.
Die Linke face their next electoral test at regional elections in Bavaria on Sept. 28th when the conservative Christian Social Union will be seeking to defend their absolute majority.