For the first time since the eastern state of Thuringia took its place in a reunified Germany, a government without Chancellor Merkel's Christian Democrats beckons. The Left party is set to lead the coalition.
Members of the Social Democrats in Thuringia on Tuesday voted to negotiate a three-way, left-leaning coalition with the ecologist Greens and the Left party. Almost 70 percent of members approved the move.
While the Greens and the Left welcomed the vote, paving the way for coalition negotiations to begin on Wednesday, Chancellor Angela Merkel and her Christian Democrats (CDU) lamented the decision to ally with the far left in the former eastern state.
At a CDU event marking 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989, Merkel criticized the Social Democrats - her coalition allies on a national level - for approving the potential alliance. For a "proud, left-leaning party of the people," Merkel said, joining a government led by the Left would be "bad news for the people of the ambitious free state of Thuringia in any case, but also a depressing situation for the SPD in state politics."
Left to provide state premier
If the talks bear fruit, the Left's Bodo Ramelow would likely take up the key role of state premier, considering his party's relative strength within the new coalition.
The Left party is often portrayed as the effective successor to the former Communist SED that ruled in East Germany before the wall fell, although these claims are rarely well received within the party itself.
Gregor Gysi, also the lead opposition politican on the national level given the grand coalition's dominance, called the SPD members' vote "unequivocal," saying it "paved the way for a coalition of social justice." On the national level, the SPD has so far refused to ally with the Left, despite some successful regional alliances. Theoretically, the same three-way coalition would have enough seats in the German Bundestag to govern nationally.
As for Gysi's party, Merkel argued that the motivations were simple: "They want to get into power - nothing more, nothing less."
The chancellor also criticized the Green party; after the Greens so successfully attracted former civil rights activists in eastern states, Merkel said that the decision appeared "too tactical to be convincing to me."
Gabriel urges CDU introspection
Leading Social Democrat Sigmar Gabriel, Merkel's deputy chancellor and also the minister for energy and the economy, said that the results were democratically valid but conceded that they did not particularly please him. However, he laid the blame for the upcoming change of leadership at the CDU's door instead.
"Someone, who for years forgets that the only viable coalition partner in the state is social democracy, and then permanently seeks to marginalize that coalition partner, has no call to be surprised when the party then declines to continue the coalition," Gabriel said.
The CDU emerged as the strongest single party in Thuringia's September 14 state elections with 33.5 percent of the vote. The Left party came in second at 28.2 percent, followed by the Social Democrats well adrift in third. But combine their votes with the 5.7 percent support for the Greens, and the left-leaning parties hold a majority 46 of 91 seats. Had the SPD elected to again ally with the CDU in Thuringia, the state's previous grand coalition - currently governing at the national level - could also have stood.
Merkel also alluded on Tuesday to the SPD's woeful 12 percent return in September, down 6 percent from 2009, saying that provided the new Left leadership did not make any glaring errors, the Social Democrats in Thuringia could "be pushed even further into a corner."
Andreas Scheuer from the Bavarian arm of Merkel's conservatives, chose to highlight the symbolism of the decision to set up such an unprecedented alliance days before the November 9 anniversary of the Berlin Wall coming down. "Twenty-five years after the fall of the wall our motto must once again be: prevent a leftist republic together!"