Hung parliament in Germany and Left Party advance - German elections express increasing Class Polarisation

Yesterday’s German elections have produced what amounts to a hung parliament. There is a strong element of class polarisation in German society, which is reflected in these elections results. Of particular interest is the emergence of the Left Party, which did very well in the historic bastions of the PDS but also picked up a reasonable vote in what was the former “affluent” West.

When German chancellor Gerhard Schröder surprised almost everybody in May and decided to go for an early election on September 18, he argued that he needed a fresh and clear mandate from the electorate to continue his policy of “reforms”. Yet as a result of last Sunday’s Bundestag (German parliament) election, Schröder’s coalition government of Social Democrats and Greens was clearly defeated and lost its majority.

On the other hand, big business did not get the result they had aimed for, either. They had clearly campaigned for a coalition government of Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) and Liberals (FDP) which would then launch all-out attacks on the unions and the welfare state. As the elections result came in on election night, big business spokesmen expressed bitter disappointment. For almost 50 years – up until the 1998 election – there had always been a combined majority of seats for the classical bourgeois parties (CDU/CSU and FDP). Yet this is the third consecutive time (1998, 2002, and 2005) that they have failed to win a majority.

The big parties were the main losers of the day. Although a crowd of uncritical cheerleaders, fans and supporters hailed SPD leaders Schröder and Müntefering in the party HQ and celebrated “victory”, the only thing to celebrate is that there was no majority for the right wing. With the CDU/CSU being slightly ahead of the SPD, the Social Democrats no longer represent the strongest parliamentary party. Since the 2002 election, the SPD has lost 2.2 million voters. By comparison with the election triumph in 1998, when the CDU/CSU-FDP coalition lead by Kohl was heavily defeated, the SPD has suffered a loss of 4 million votes.

On the other hand, with 35.2 percent of the votes cast, the Christian Democrats just managed to reach the share they had scored in 1998 when there was a wind of change and people were fed up with Kohl after 16 years in office. In absolute terms, the Christian Democrats even suffered a loss of over 700,000 votes on their bad 1998 result. Whereas they had been quite sure for months that they would conquer well over 40 percent and easily take over the government in coalition with the FDP, this result amounts to a disaster for them.

The mood in the country was and is very volatile. The fact that a clear turn to the right was prevented is partly due to a last minute swing towards the SPD. It is true that the attendance at SPD election rallies was far bigger than most observers would have predicted just a few months ago. This, however, does not reflect any enthusiasm with Schröder’s recent policy of attacks on the sick and unemployed (labelled “Agenda 2010”).

On the other hand, as the election campaign was going ahead, many workers realised that an election victory of the right wing would have ushered in even more brutal attacks on workers’ living standards and union rights. Thus, many workers, grinding their teeth, in spite of all disappointments with Schröder’s government rallied to prevent the worse and strengthen the “lesser evil”. The speeches of the political leaders of both the SPD and Greens in the election rallies sounded more left wing than in previous years. Schröder cultivated his image as a working class champion who promised to make sure that in spite of necessary and painful “reforms” (i.e. counter-reforms) the “social balance” was not lost. In North Rhine Westphalia, Germany’s industrial heartlands where the SPD had suffered a bitter defeat in the May regional elections, the SPD clearly emerged as the No. 1 again. In East Germany, the Christian Democrats emerged as only the third biggest party. While the CDU/CSU held their Southern bastions, once again, as in 2002, they emerged as the strongest political party only in four out of sixteen federal states.

Class Polarisation

Last Sunday’s election result is an expression of increasing class polarisation. In both political camps, the more consistent forces were strengthened respectively. This is true of the liberal FDP which appeared as a neo-liberal hardliner and union basher and thus grew by some 1.1 million votes. On the other hand, the losses of the SPD (-2.2 million) correspond to the gains of the Left Party (+2.2 million). In a way, the arrival of 54 newly elected MPs representing the Left Party (Linkspartei.PDS) marks a new stage in the development. They scored 8.7 per cent or nearly 4.1 million votes nationally. The success of the left party has to be understood against the background of attacks on living standards and living conditions that have triggered off movements of social resistance over the last two years (mass demonstrations against the dismantling of the welfare state, Monday demos of the unemployed, especially in the East, strike movements, etc.). Though the Left party still has its bastions in the East, it has significantly advanced in the West, also, where its overall share was 4.9 percent. With Oskar Lafontaine, the former SPD chairman who had resigned from all his political positions after a row with Schröder some six years ago, leading the newly united Left into the election battle, the Left Party was taken more seriously and now has a chance to build solid support and structures also in the West. In the Saarland, Lafontaine’s home base, the Left Party even scored 18 per cent of the votes cast. Election analyses indicate that some 11 percent of all workers and 22 per cent of the unemployed workers voted for the Left Party.

Whereas one year ago the fascist elements around the NPD managed to win over 9 per cent of the votes cast in the Eastern state of Saxony and arrogantly claimed that from this bastion they would certainly manage to get a strong representation in the Bundestag next time, the NPD, though scoring some modest gains, still did very poorly in this election.

It is for the first time since World War II that there is a sort of hung parliament and the formation of a stable coalition government may turn out to be pretty difficult to achieve. The ruling class will exert pressure upon both the SPD and Greens to somehow collaborate with the right wing parties and stabilise the situation. Whatever the future constellation may be, attacks on the working class will continue and thus social unease and discontent will grow. There is even some speculation about another new election before long.

SPD leaders have categorically excluded any cooperation with the Left Party and even the official SPD “lefts”, such as executive member Andrea Nahles, would rather include the FDP in a coalition under Schröder. Being labelled as the “urchins” and “untouchables” by the other parliamentary parties, the Left Party will be presented with enormous opportunities for growth if they manage to put forward a clear socialist alternative and become what they have promised to be: a committed mouthpiece of trade unionists and all the underprivileged sections in society.

 

September 19, 2005

 

(a further, more detailed, report will follow)

 


Election results: Percentage of votes cast

Bundestag election September 18, 2005

 

2005

2002

SPD (Social Democrats)

34.3

38.5

CDU/CSU (Christian Democrats)

35.2

38.5

Greens

8.1

8.6

Liberals (FDP)

9.8

7.4

Left Party (PDS)

8.7

4.0

 

Note: These are preliminary results as there will be a by-election in one constituency in Dresden (Saxony) on October 2, which may marginally alter the results without changing the balance of forces in the Bundestag and the fact that there is a hung parliament.