The leader of the Social Democrats in the state of Hesse signaled a significant shift in German politics by saying she would hold talks with the Left Party. But her main opponents want her to consider a grand coalition.
Despite assurances that it would not consider working with the Left, the SPD could change tack
Six weeks after inconclusive elections in the western state, Hesse's Social Democratic Part (SPD) leader, Andrea Ypsilanti, said her preferred combination of the SPD, the Greens and the liberal FDP had foundered on opposition from the FDP.
The Christian Democratic Union (CDU), however, said it wanted to engage in talks with Ypsilanti over a grand coalition, similar to the national power-sharing agreement, according to CDU state parliamentary leader Christean Wagner.
He told broadcaster Deutschlandfunk on Wednesday, March 5, a grand coalition would be the only way to keep the Left Party from increasing its influence.
Ypsilanti, who positions herself on the left wing of the SPD, indicated on Tuesday, she would accept being voted into office as premier with the help of the six Left Party members of the new legislature.
Ypsilanti wants to form a government with the Left
She acknowledged that this was in conflict with her pre-election position.
"It could happen that I cannot stick to an election promise," she said. "Believe me, this is not easy for me."
The German public is divided on whether the SPD and CDU should cooperate with the Left, according to a Forsa study published in German news weekly Stern.
Some 52 percent of Germans said they were against parties associating with Left while 42 percent said they could imagine such a tie-up.
Ypsilanti and SPD national head Kurt Beck pledged ahead of the Jan. 27 poll that they would not enter into any agreement with the Left, a party that draws most of its support from left-wing SPD breakaways and in the formerly communist eastern states.
Left a key player in coalition deals
The SPD emerged from the elections with 36.7 percent of the vote, behind Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats on 36.8 percent. Both parties have 42 seats in the 110-seat legislature.
The free-market liberal FDP, normally the CDU's ideal coalition partner, has 11 seats, and the Greens, the SPD's preferred partner, have nine. The Left, with six seats, holds the balance.
The SPD has previously avoided all contact in the western states with the Left, which many Germans see as a party of unreconstructed communists in the east and fringe leftists in the west.
In the eastern states, where the Left is the largest party with estimated support of around 30 percent, the SPD has entered into a coalition with the party in the city-state of Berlin.
Concessions to Left risk political spilt
The opening up to the Left, initiated late last month by Beck, has caused a rift in the party, Germany's oldest political formation with strong links to the trade union movement.
Merkel and other CDU leaders have openly accused Beck and Ypsilanti of breaking their pre-election promises.
Ypsilanti aims to have herself elected premier by the state legislature with the party's support in a secret ballot on April 5.
Gysi is willing to give the SPD the votes they need
Left Party leader in the federal parliament, Gregor Gysi, pledged the full support of the party for Ypsilanti in the vote.
"I give her a guarantee for the six votes that she needs," he said.
But observers did not rule out the possibility that SPD members opposed to the deal might use the secrecy of the ballot to scupper Ypsilanti's plans by abstaining.
Ypsilanti said Tuesday she would seek shifting majorities with the FDP and the CDU to push through educational reforms and an energy policy based on renewable resources for the state, which includes the financial centre of Frankfurt.
Analysts believe she could seek an early election after making her policy aims clear.