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A Dose of Reality for Germany's Left Party?

DW staff (mry)August 28, 2005

Three weeks before Germany's general election, the newly formed socialist Left Party is starting to flag in the polls as it battles to defend its campaign platform considered by many critics as financially unviable.

The Left Party's Oskar Lafontaine is accused of being a "luxury leftist"Image: AP

"We don't have our heads in the clouds," said party president Lothar Bisky.

The Left Party platform envisages a minimum monthly salary of 1,400 euros ($1,720) before tax, a minimum pension of 800 euros ($980 dollars), universal free medical treatment and tax relief for those on low incomes. The cost would be 60 billion euros ($74 billion dollars) which could be met "if we finally make well-off people and high earners contribute to the common good, as they should," Bisky said.

The manifesto was overwhelmingly endorsed at the end of the congress on Saturday, with only two of the 400 delegates voting against it.

The Left Party includes the former Communists of eastern Germany and western ex-members of the governing Social Democrats (SPD) who resigned over Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's plans to trim the welfare state, grouped in the WASG party.

The split on the left coupled with the unpopularity of the

government's economic measures makes the center-right Christian Democratic opposition the likely winner of the September 18 election.

Pan-German socialists

Headed by two popular politicians, easterner Gregor Gysi and westerner Oskar Lafontaine, the Left Party is considered certain to obtain more than five percent of the vote, thanks to its strength in the east, giving it several members in the lower house of parliament, or Bundestag.

Gregor Gysi und Oskar Lafontaine
Gregor Gysi and Oskar LafontaineImage: dpa

But there is uncertainty as to its probable final result. Polls

earlier this summer suggested the party could get nearly 13 percent of the vote, but support has now dropped to between seven and 10 percent.

Bisky, a former member of the Communist party in the old East Germany, accused Schröder of "losing contact with reality" in the face of capitalist "neo-liberalism." Lafontaine, a former finance minister in the Schröder government and one time SPD chairman, said he was proud to take part in the creation of a strong and united German left which should "finally be clearly again on the side of the weak" and "offer a counter-proposal to the neo-liberalism" of Schröder, characterised as the "grave digger of the SPD."

But Lafontaine, who quit the SPD to join the WASG some months ago, has repeatedly come under uncomfortable scrutiny recently.

In a speech he used the phrase "foreign workers" which has certain connotations in Germany even 60 years after the end of the Nazi regime. He has also been in the headlines in recent days for renting a lavish villa on the Mediterranean island of Majorca for his vacation.

A luxury leftist?

Landesparteitag der WASG: Spitzenkandidat Oskar Lafontaine
Der fruehere SPD Parteivorsitzende Oskar Lafontaine spricht am Samstag, 18. Juni 2005, auf dem Landesparteitag der WASG (Wahlalternative Soziale Gerechtigkeit) in Koeln. Lafontaine will als Spitzenkandidat der Partei bei der Bundestagswahl 2005 kandidieren.(AP Photo/Joerg Sarbach) ---Oskar Lafontaine, fomer chairman of the German Social Democratic Party, SPD, during his speech at a regional party congress of the WASG in Cologne, western Germany, Saturday, June 18, 2005. The new left wing party is fishing for votes for the German general elections in Sept. 2005.(AP Photo/Joerg Sarbach)Image: AP

He allegedly told a newspaper that wanted him to take part in a discussion with its readers that they would have to fly him to and from the island in a private jet. He described the claims as lies Saturday, but the damage may already be done. Many Left Party members have since criticized him as a "luxury leftist" not fit to lead their socialist cause.

Gysi defended his joint head of the party list on Saturday saying that "to be on the left you do not have to be poor, you have to be against poverty. This is not a traitor: he stayed the same while the SPD stopped being social-democratic."

Emnid pollster Klaus-Peter Schöppner told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper that the fall in the Left Party's poll

ratings could be explained by the end of a period of euphoria and signs of weariness.

"If talk about Lafontaine as a luxury leftist continues and damages his credibility as champion of the little people, the Left Party could drop below seven percent," Schöppner said.