Left party struggles to make an impact as elections loom | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 14.06.2013
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Left party struggles to make an impact as elections loom

For years, the Left party has been held back by inner-party rows. The new manifesto - to be presented at the party convention in Dresden - is designed to lure in voters ahead of elections in September.

ARCHIV - Delegierte stimmen am 22.10.2011 auf dem Bundesparteitag der Linken in Erfurt über einen Antrag ab. Die Thüringer Linke kämpft gegen die Altersfalle. Das durchschnittliche Parteimitglied hat seinen 60. Geburtstag hinter sich. Foto: Martin Schutt/dpa (zu lth vom 15.11.2012) +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++

Linke will raus aus der Altersfalle

After bagging a surprising 11.9 percent of the vote in the national elections in 2009, it all went pear-shaped for the Left party. Today, a mere 6 to 9 percent of Germans would vote for Germany's most left-wing major party.

At their last convention a year ago, the party just about prevented a major split. Before that, the constant rows between so-called reformers, or pragmatists - who are mainly from the former East Germany - and the radical anti-capitalists - who are mainly from the west of the country, had paralyzed the party for three years.

Ahead of this year's party convention in the city of Dresden, general manager, Matthias Höhn, admits the party was still "in permanent catch-up mode since last summer to make up for the shortcomings of the last three years," saying that the situation won't change until the elections on September 22.

Oskar Lafontaine, Fraktionsvorsitzender der Partei Die Linke im saarländischen Landtag, spricht am 13.01.2013 in Berlin. Beim Politischen Jahresauftakt der Linken stimmten er und weitere Vertreter der Partei die 800 Gäste auf die anstehenden Wahlen ein. Foto: Paul Zinken/dpa +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++

Lafontaine boosted the party's image in the west

No more Lafontaine

The party will have to manage without its controversial former leader and driving force Oskar Lafontaine, who made the Left a household name in western Germany.

But his fiercely anti-capitalist stance irked too many in the party, and when he fell ill with cancer, the 69-year-old decided to quit all his posts at the federal level.

Since 2011, the Left party had to vacate many of its seats in state parliaments - especially in the west of Germany, where the party still struggles to become a major player. Come September 22, the party will have to, once again, make up for its shortfalls in the populous west of the country with its strong support in the east.

Signs of stabilization

The party always has two people at the top - a man and a woman - one from the east and one from the west. The current heads, Katja Kipping, who is from the east, and Bernd Reixinger, who's from western Germany, have done a reasonably good job of keeping the fragile peace within the party.

"The party has stabilized," said Ralf Tils, a political scientist at the Leuphana University Lüneburg. He believes the party can still pull in the voters with its traditional focus on social policies, especially in the east of the country.

In a way, the party is its own worst enemy. In its efforts to accommodate all the different groups within the party, it does not just have one main candidate for the general elections, like most of the other parties, but eight, who are all on equal terms.

"We've established a new style of leadership," Kipping said. "We're all consulting each other now."

Social issues dominate

Iinner-party wranglings are not the only reason for the party's flagging popularity. When the then-chancellor Gerhard Schröder introduced his controversial reforms of unemployment aid and welfare - known as Hartz IV - 10 years ago, many outraged voters turned to the Left party.

At that time, Schröder's Social Democrats seemed to leave behind their traditional focus on workers' rights, and the Left party gladly picked up the pieces.

But the Social Democrats have since rediscovered their roots, distancing themselves somewhat from Schröder's reforms. Thus, the Left party tries to come across as even more socially-minded than the Social Democrats. However, it has not paid off so far, with polls suggesting that voters trust the Social Democrats far more when it comes to social policies.

Mitarbeiter der Linken arbeiten am 20.02.2013 in Berlin in ihrer Wahlkampfzentrale im Karl-Liebknecht-Haus. In der Wahlkampfzentrale der Partei Die Linke werden Bürgerfragen beantwortet und Strategien für die Bundestagswahl 2013 entwickelt. Foto: Michael Kappeler/dpa pixel

The Left party insists its social policies are doable

There are, indeed, only minor differences in that area between the two left-wing parties. But the Left party is going all out by calling for the highest minimum wage, the highest benefits and the highest pensions as well as the lowest retirement age of any party.

It also calls for higher taxes on the rich and a one-off tax on combined assets of 1 million euros - a policy also favored by the Green party.

The Left party insists that its policies are feasible and can be paid for. It also wants to ban hedge funds to rein in the financial markets, halt arms exports, stop all foreign missions of the armed forces, the Bundeswehr, and renationalize utilities.

On the sidelines

Both the Social Democrats and the Greens have said that they wouldn't want the Left party as a coalition partner, making it no more than a minnow in the election pond, according to political scientist Tils.

"The Left party won't have a stab at power until 2017," he reckons.

Another potentially explosive topic at the party convention in Dresden will be the exit from the euro currency, favored by Lafontaine and other staunch anti-capitalists in the party.

But the current main candidates running for election do not want to include a euro exit in the manifesto, adding fuel to the fire that is the Left party's quest for unity.

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