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German Leftist Movement Gaining Ground

DW staff (dc)June 30, 2005

Germany's new leftist alliance could be a major thorn in Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's side should Friday's confidence vote result in early elections, as support for the party surged to 11 percent in a recent poll.

Lafontaine is making a strong comebackImage: AP

The new far-left alliance doesn't even have a proper name yet, and already it's emerging as a threat to Schröder's Social Democratic Party.

In a poll released on Wednesday, the leftist alliance achieved a surprising 11 percent. If that's a sign of things to come, the alliance could siphon off enough support to rob Schröder's center-left party of its already slim chance of victory in the next general election, which could be held as early as September.

Gregor Gysi und Oskar Lafontaine
PDS leader Gregor Gysi with WASG leader Oskar LafontaineImage: dpa - Bildfunk

At the helm of the alliance is the "odd couple" combination of two of Germany's most charismatic orators -- ex-SPD chairman Oskar Lafontaine and reform communist PDS party leader Gregor Gysi. Their joint comeback has proved to be a draw to disgruntled socialists all over the nation.

"Our aim is to be the third largest party in parliament," Lafontaine said in a joint interview with Gysi in Stern magazine. "A left-wing force is badly needed in parliament."

Seeking support from the right?

Lafontaine is, however, currently attracting criticism in the German media for making what his detractors have described as a bid for votes from the far right. In a speech warning about job losses in Germany, he used the Nazi-tainted term "Fremdarbeiter" when speaking of foreign workers.

The President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Paul Spiegel, condemned Lafontaine's use of the term. He said he could understand that parties would try to gain support from the right; the question was with what means, Spiegel told the Netzeitung.

Lafontaine's word choice further fed criticism of the leftist alliance by a coalition of German writers and intellectuals.

"The new leftist party is neither new nor leftist, just as the PDS, despite its name, does not stand for democratic socialism," a statement released by the coalition on Wednesday read.

The PDS enjoys support in the former East Germany, but the party has failed to take root in the west, due to widespread apprehension about the party's communist background.

"Almost brilliant"

Jahresrückblick 2004 August Hartz IV Demonstration
Disillusionment with the SPD has been building among the party's far-left factionImage: AP

Joining the PDS to make up the leftist alliance is Lafontaine's WASG party, a break-away socialist party made up of politicians dissatisfied with Schröder's mainstream SPD and its welfare and labor market reforms.

"It wouldn't make sense if the PDS and WASG each get 4.9 percent of the nationwide vote and end up outside parliament," said Lafontaine. "That's why we wanted to explore an alliance."

"We need a very popular man in the west," said Gysi in the interview with Stern. "And if we get along, respect each other and aren't arrogant, it's almost brilliant."