As calls mount for a policy change, the Social Democrats (SPD) in Thuringia have decided against a shift toward the Left party. Instead they have opted for a governing coalition with the Christian Democrats (CDU).
The Left party is gaining ground in Germany, but has no partners
Following weeks of speculation, the SPD in Thuringia announced on Thursday that they would be seeking a governing coalition with the conservatives rather than a three-way alliance with the Left party and the Greens.
"We are convinced that this coalition is the more stable option," said SPD leader in Thuringia Christoph Matschie.
The move is consistent with the Social Democrats' federal policy of shunning the Left party, canceling out what would have been the first three-way coalition between the SPD, the Left party and the Greens at state level.
Instead it is now playing the part of kingmaker for the strongest party in the Thuringian state parliament, the conservative CDU, leaving the post of Thuringian state premier to the party's Christine Lieberknecht.
Lieberknecht is set to take the helm in Thuringia
"I am relieved and grateful that the SPD came to this decision after long deliberations. We had hoped for this outcome in the interest of the state," said Lieberknecht.
The Left party slammed the decision, which forces it to take to the opposition benches yet again.
"The SPD is not going with the times. The voter is being cheated by this move. I hope voters in the next election will decide that this party [the SDP] is finished in Thuringia and that politics with them is no longer possible," said Knut Korschewsky, the Left party's state chairman in Thuringia.
"In bed with the CDU"
In Thuringian state elections on August 30, the CDU took 31.2 percent, just ahead of the Left party at 27.4 percent. Since the CDU and the Left's policy are irreconcilable, it was virtually left to the third-placed SPD, at 18.5 percent, to decide who would lead Thuringia's new government.
Analysts say three-way coalition talks did not fail over political issues but rather on personnel issues, with the SPD and the Left at loggerheads over nominating a new state premier. Though the SPD had come a distant third in the election, it was not prepared to cede leadership to the second-placed Left party.
"Matschie used the negotiations to focus on topic of dissent in order to get into bed with the CDU," said Korschewsky.
The coalition twist in Thuringia has further fuelled the debate about where the SPD is heading following the catastrophic results in last weekend's general election. The Social Democrats earned only 23 percent - the party's lowest election returns in postwar history.
Matschie was not willing to cede leadership to any other party than the CDU
SPD losing ground to Left party
The SPD has been struggling to hold on to its voter basis ever since the Left party entered the political theater and claimed the left sphere for itself.
The party has consistently ruled out forming a coalition with the Left federally. However, at state level this has been considered an altogether different case, especially in eastern Germany where the Left party's standing is far stronger than in the West.
In Thuringia, a coalition would have been possible, and some within the SPD openly favored a left alliance over a coalition with the conservatives.
"The Left party actually is a suitable coalition partner for the SPD. However, it is problematic if the SPD has to cede leadership to the Left which would in the long-term demote it to a mere a satellite," Micheal Luehmann, a political analyst from the University of Goettingen told Deutsche Welle.
"With the conservatives moving more strongly toward the center-left of the political spectrum, the SPD is running the risk of being squashed between the Left party and the CDU, a process which we have been seeing in Saxony and Thuringia for almost 20 years now," added Luehmann.
Clearly the SPD is not ready to join forces with the Left party - and in some parts of Germany, it may never be. So far, the one party to benefit from this policy is the CDU, which - despite unconvincing election results - is on track for another term in government in Thuringia.
Author: Neil King
Editor: Nancy Isenson