During Tuesday's opening session of parliament, the Left Party's candidate for deputy speaker was dealt a blow when he failed to get the votes needed from fellow parliamentarians. It has highlighted old schisms.
Bisky was voted down three times
On Tuesday, despite repeated rounds of voting, Lothar Bisky, party chief of the Left Party, failed to garner enough votes from his fellow parliamentarians to be elected to one of six deputy speakers' posts. Initially, the success of the vote was seen as a foregone conclusion as these posts are traditionally distributed evenly among the parliamentary parties.
But Bisky failed to secure an absolute majority of at least 308 votes in three rounds, leaving the Left Party in dismay and lending the first day of parliament some unexpected drama. The Left Party has expressed outrage, with parliamentary leader Dagmar Enkelmann calling the incident "nasty and unparliamentarian."
Outraged Left Party parliamentarians are standing defiant after Tuesday's defeat and have vowed to push through Bisky.
"There's no denying that at first I was very upset and sad," said Gregor Gysi, a Left Party figurehead.
"We're not going to drop Mr. Bisky now, and we'll have all the patience we need to see him through. We'll let parliament vote as long as it takes to elect Bisky as one of the deputies."
Conspiracy or just mistrust?
Representatives from all mainstream parties hastened to emphasize that there had not been any conspiracy to turn Bisky down, although representatives of the Left Party have their own interpretation.
The new Left Party is made up of successors to East Germany's Communist Party and western German Social Democrats disgruntled with acting Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's labor and welfare reforms. The party got over eight percent of the vote in last month's general elections – making it the fourth largest party in parliament.
Merkel, center, talks to the Left Party's parliamentary group
Its leaders now see Tuesday's defeat as an expression of frustration by representatives of the mainstream parties who begrudge the Left Party their success with the voters and are suspicious of the party's communist background.
But many MPs said they had refused to support the 64-year-old East German because of allegations that he was an informant of the former East German secret police, the Stasi. Those allegations had never been proved beyond doubt by the state-run agency in charge of analyzing the Stasi archives, and they are denied vigorously by Bisky.
Right to deputy speaker position
Deputy parliamentary speaker Hermann Otto Solms from the free-market liberal Free Democrats admits that he feels uneasy about the outcome of Tuesday's vote. He stressed that the Left Party is entitled to have a deputy speaker of its own, and the general suspicion surrounding this party should not play a role in the voting
"Our statute clearly defines that all political forces represented in parliament have the right to be represented in the presidium made up of the speakers," he said.
"There are no two ways about it. At the same time the people elected into this presidium need to enjoy majority backing from the MPs."
"As far as Mr. Bisky is concerned, this was obviously not the case," he added. "Many of my colleagues had strong reservations which I do not share."
New Parliamentary President Lammert with Angela Merkel
The newly elected president of the Bundestag – who functions as the parliamentary speaker, Norbert Lammert, has been trying to play down the incident and find a compromise.
"I've given parliamentarians a bit of time to rethink their voting behavior and the Left Party to consider the option of putting up a different candidate," he said.
"I can't force them to do so, but I hope that a more unemotional approach during the next round of voting in November will yield a result that everyone can live with." The Left Party parliamentary group has asked that the matter be taken up with the parliament's Council of Elders, which manages the internal affairs of the lawmaking body. The next session of the council is planned for Nov. 7 - 10.