Merkel′s Challenger Under Pressure Over Risky Left Shift | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 01.03.2008
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Merkel's Challenger Under Pressure Over Risky Left Shift

German politicians and public opinion polls are increasing the pressure on Kurt Beck, leader of the Social Democrats (SPD), over his decision to approve cooperation with a far-left party.

SPD Chairman Kurt Beck

Kurt Beck has raised many eyebrows by reversing his position on the Left party

The shape of a new government coalition in the state of Hesse still remains unclear after stunning losses robbed Angela Merkel's conservatives of their clear majority and the far left saw surprise gains in the state elections on Jan. 27.

But Beck's plans to use Left party votes to oust longtime Hesse Premier Roland Koch, a conservative ally of Merkel, and give the Social Democrats a much needed push heading into the next year's federal elections have come under attack from different ends of the political spectrum.

In an interview with the Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper, Finance Minister Peer Steinbrueck -- himself a Social Democrat -- said a majority of SPD voters rejected the idea of cooperating with the Left and said Beck's decision to work with them in the state of Hesse was "not the last word" on the matter.

"Such a decision must be better communicated and prepared internally," Steinbrueck said in a clear swipe at Beck, who did not consult senior party members before changing his stance on the Left -- a party he had vowed previously never to work with.

Steinbrueck made clear he opposed not only active cooperation with the far-left party but also "tolerating" them by using their votes to take power in Hesse, as Beck envisions.

Straining the coalition

Angela Merkel and Kurt Beck are depicted on a carnival float during the traditional carnival parade in Duesseldorf, Germany

Merkel and Back even had their own carnival float in Duesseldorf last month

Meanwhile, conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel told the weekly Spiegel that the change of attitude shown by her coalition partner Kurt Beck after the state elections in Hesse was "pretty remarkable" and that it meant "a very difficult situation for the SPD."

Merkel also voiced her concern about the reliability of the Social Democrats as political partners in view of their apparent course change.

"The behaviour of the SPD and their chairman will certainly be judged by everybody in light of this experience," Merkel said.

The Left -- a party formed by former East German communists and disaffected SPD supporters -- is seen by many as being populist and unreliable.

Left party leader Oskar Lafontaine, a former chairman of the SPD who left the party in protest at ex-Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's labor market reforms and decision to send German troops abroad, has labelled U.S. President George W. Bush a "terrorist" and praised Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez.

Beck's fading fortunes

German Chancellor Angela Merkel listens to a parliamentary debate in the Reichstags building

Merkel hopes to win a second term as Germany's chancellor next year

The SPD, which is in an uneasy federal coalition government with the conservative Christian Democrats (CDU), is expected to decide early next year about a candidate who will challenge the highly popular Merkel in the forthcoming federal elections.

A poll for broadcaster ZDF on Friday showed only 27 percent of voters believe Beck should be the SPD's candidate down from with 40 percent in November.

Even more damning, only 37 percent of SPD supporters now back him, down from 55 percent three months ago, the poll conducted by Forschungsgruppe Wahlen showed.

A separate poll by Forsa this week showed support for the SPD down 1 percentage point and Merkel's conservatives up.

The most likely alternative to Beck would be Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

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