Left-wing steps up pressureon Schroeder over reforms

9th August 2004, Comments 0 comments

9 August 2004 , BERLIN - Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder faced growing protests Monday over cuts to jobless benefits with left-wingers ratcheting up pressure through demonstrations and an arch-enemy in his own SPD threatening to create a new German leftist party. Schroeder's Social Democrats (SPD) are stuck at historic opinion poll lows in part because government tax, welfare and especially unemployment cuts have alienated many traditional left-wing voters. In a two-pronged assault on the Chancellor, demonstr

9 August 2004

BERLIN - Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder faced growing protests Monday over cuts to jobless benefits with left-wingers ratcheting up pressure through demonstrations and an arch-enemy in his own SPD threatening to create a new German leftist party. 

Schroeder's Social Democrats (SPD) are stuck at historic opinion poll lows in part because government tax, welfare and especially unemployment cuts have alienated many traditional left-wing voters. 

In a two-pronged assault on the Chancellor, demonstrations have been called in eastern Germany modelled on the 1989 "Monday protests" that brought down the communist East German regime. 

Several thousand people in eastern Germany took part in marches last Monday under the banner "We are the people," which was the rallying call of anti-communist regime protests 15 years ago. 

SPD leaders such as Economics Minister Wolfgang Clement have reacted with fury to the protests and term them an insult to those who risked their lives to topple the hardline East German regime. 

But in signs of growing disarray in Schroeder's party, the influential SPD parliamentary president, Wolfgang Thierse, announced he had "sympathy" for the protests. 

Observers consider it critical to see whether the demonstrations continue to attract less than 10,000 people and remain limited to eastern Germany or if they mushroom into a national mass movement with hundreds of thousands - like that which brought down the communist leadership in East Berlin. 

A possibly more dangerous challenge to Schroeder has also come from former SPD party leader and German finance minister Oskar Lafontaine. 

Once described by a British newspaper as "the most dangerous man in Europe," the anti-globalist Lafontaine last weekend repeated calls for Schroeder to resign. 

But this time the ambitious Lafontaine backed up his demand by announcing he would back plans for a new leftist party in German general elections in 2006 if Schroeder refused to cancel the reforms. 

"Current policies have robbed the SPD of its soul," said Lafontaine in an interview with the news magazine Der Spiegel, adding that he would never give up "socialism". 

Lafontaine, who remains a popular and eloquent figurehead for the German left, accused Schroeder of presiding over the biggest rollback of the welfare state since 1945 and of deploying far too many German troops abroad. 

The attacks come at a bad time for Schroeder. 

His SPD has been stuck at around 25 percent in opinion polls all year while the main conservative opposition is between 45 and 50 percent. 

Analysts predict that a new left-wing party - if led by a high profile politician like Lafontaine - would rake in 15 to 20 percent of the vote in the next election. 

This could potentially make it the kingmaker for any future left-of-centre German government given that coalitions have been the rule in the postwar era.

DPA


Subject: German news

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