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Left Party Puts Rivals on Offensive

DW staff (jdk)July 20, 2005

The newly formed "Left Party" is already gaining ground in the opinion polls -- at the cost of the conservative opposition. Although the leftists don't want to rule, they will take important votes.

Merkel will have to rely on more than her gender and origin for votesImage: AP

It all seems a shoe-in for the conservative Christian Democrats (CDU). In Angela Merkel, they can kill two birds with one stone. They have a chancellor candidate from the east to rein in votes from that vital part of the electorate.

They also have potentially the first woman chancellor in German history. A fact that may win critical swing votes. The recipe for victory is straight out of the political campaign strategy book.

Wahlparteitag der PDS jetzt Die Linkspartei
"Left Party" leaders Lothar Bisky (right) and Gregor GysiImage: AP

And then came "The Left Party." The former Party for Democratic Socialism (PDS), the successor to the SED party that ruled East Germany for almost 40 years, joined forces with the western-based Election Alternative for Social Justice (WASG). The result: a party that, according to the most recent public opinion polls, has become the third strongest party in Germany.

The country's main parties, particularly the conservative CDU, are alarmed. The CDU feel that the "Left Party" could steal so many votes as to foil their victory party plans. In 2002, the opposition to the brewing invasion of Iraq and the floods in the east sank what seemed to be a certain CDU victory, and Gerhard Schröder squeaked out a razor thin second term in office.

The CDU leadership is now trying to nip another potential disaster in the bud.

Reaching out to the east

Saxony's Premier Georg Milbradt (CDU) is supposed to attract voters to Angela Merkel and his partyImage: AP

The heads of the CDU have only two months before probable elections. Campaign strategy is high-priority. The question is whether the party should create a separate plan tailored to the eastern states.

CDU general-secretary in the eastern state of Thuringia Mike Mohring told the Berliner Zeitung that voters in the east "want to identify" with her.

There should be space on campaign posters for topics that directly affect those in the east, and point out successes such as quality education in the schools of states run by the CDU.

Angela Merkel admits that the campaign in the east will be "partially different." She feels the CDU has to "meet the people in their real lives."

Oskar Lafontaine
When Oskar Lafontaine speaks, people come to listenImage: dpa

Yet the "Left Party" has two seasoned, media-savvy politicians at the helm in Gregor Gysi and Oskar Lafontaine. Disaffected Germans, the ones Merkel feels her party must meet, are attracted to the new party.

Something that the CDU's parliamentary speaker of eastern MPs, Arnold Vaatz, blames on the west German media. He told the Rheinische Post that the news sources in the west have helped those who actually want to harm the country, Gysi and Lafontaine, come back to life.

Concern amongst the other parties

The Social Democrats should be even more concerned. They are losing their traditional voter base. Many of their left-wing members are now marching with Lafontaine under the banner of social justice and singing worker's hymns. Deputy parliamentary head Michael Müller warns, however, about turning the election into a "campaign of revenge" against the former party chairman.

Junior coalition partner, the Greens, are taking a more aggressive stance. Party co-chair Reinhard Bütikofer has criticized the "Left Party" of promising the sky to voters. In reality it is pure deception that would cost the state an additional 150 billion euros ($125 bill.) per year.

The Liberals (FDP) shouldn't fear losing their core voters to the new left. Party general-secretary Dirk Niebel doesn't believe statements by the SPD and the Greens that they wouldn't form a coalition with the "Left Party." Such a partnership, he told MDR Info radio, would be a step back "into the past."