Delegates at an extraordinary Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS) congress in Berlin on Sunday supported the measure to join a splinter far-left party by 74.6 percent, easily reaching the two-thirds majority requirement.
With the move, the PDS will now be known, together with the WASG party headed by former Social Democrat chairman Oskar Lafontaine, as "Die Linkspartei," or "The Left Party." The letters "PDS" may still be tacked on at the end, an option that particularly the party's eastern German branches intend to make use of.
A political force in the East
The PDS were the successors to Erich Honecker's SED party that ruled communist East Germany until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. In the years since reunification, it has remained a political force in Germany's five eastern states.
By merging with Lafontaine's leftist splinter party, the PDS hope to turn The Left Party into a socialist force to be reckoned with should early elections go ahead in September, as widely anticipated. Pollsters have already forecast that the alliance could win 12 percent of the vote.
"This is an extremely important chance for us," said Gregor Gysi, the charismatic leader of the PDS. "Who would have thought in 1990 that we would be part of a pan-German party that is left of the SPD? I have to admit I couldn't have imagined it."
A new start
At Sunday's congress of the PDS, party chairman Lothar Bisky called on members to agree to the name change to pave the way for yet another new start, this time at the side of Lafontaine and the WASG.
Bisky stressed that the alliance was the best way for the PDS to make inroads in western Germany, where the party has traditionally turned in a dismal performance at the polls, due to a high degree of scepticism on the part of westerners about its communist roots.