PDS becomes Left Party, ahead of Greens in polls

18th July 2005, Comments 0 comments

18 July 2005, BERLIN - A far-left alliance of dissatisfied Social Democrats and former East German communists rallied in Berlin Sunday with polls showing their newly-christened Left Party has overtaken the Greens in voter support.

18 July 2005

BERLIN - A far-left alliance of dissatisfied Social Democrats and former East German communists rallied in Berlin Sunday with polls showing their newly-christened Left Party has overtaken the Greens in voter support.

The developments coincided with an unconfirmed report that President Horst Koehler plans this coming week to dissolve the Bundestag parliament and call a general election on September 18.

With just two months to go, opinion surveys showed the Left Party garnering 10 per cent of the vote, compared to just 7 per cent for the Greens, junior partners in embattled Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's fragile centre-left coalition government.

That would make the Left Party the third-strongest political force in Germany, behind front-runner Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) at 43 per cent and Schroeder's Social Democrats (SPD) at 27 per cent.

In the five states constituting former communist East Germany, the Left Party has the support of a whopping 29 per cent of the electorate, according to an Emnid Institute poll. In the west, support is running at under 10 per cent -- head-and-head with the Greens in most places.

The new far-left alliance is headed by former Schroeder cabinet member Oskar Lafontaine and Gregor Gysi, long the most charismatic figure in the far-leftist Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS), the reconstituted East German Communist Party. Lafontaine heads the new leftist grouping called the Labour and Social Election Alternative (WASG).

In Berlin Sunday, the PDS met in a national convention to change the party's name formally to Linkspartei (Left Party), thus paving the way for a merger with the WASG under a common campaign banner.

"This is a second beginning for us," 57-year-old Gysi told delegates in Berlin. "Fifteen years after our first beginning we are now poised to take on more political power than ever before."

Schroeder, whose Social Democrats are trailing in the public opinion surveys in the run-up to the planned September general election, continued to lash out at dissenters in his own party who have gone over to the new Left Party, as well as at his conservative challenger Merkel.

"I am confident that we can turn this campaign around and emerge victorious," Schroeder said. "And if the federal president should decide against calling a new election, then I have every intention of remaining in office and filling out my full term for another year."

According to an unconfirmed report in Monday's editions of Der Spiegel news magazine, Koehler viewed Schroeder's remarks as a threat to him. The magazine said Koehler had told his aides he now had no choice but to call for a new election in order to prevent political chaos in Germany.

Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, meanwhile, issued a blistering attack on the new Left Party.

"There is absolutely no reason for us to cower in fear or shame," Fischer, the Green Party's standard-bearer, said in published remarks.

"We have an admirable and in fact outstanding record, built in two decades of hard work in the German Bundestag," said Fischer, who was in New York over the weekend for deliberations at the United Nations on Germany's bid to gain a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council.

"We have nothing to fear from anybody as we go into an election campaign from which I am confident we will emerge victorious."

Germany's Greens, facing a strong challenge from the political left for the first time in their history, held their own party congress last weekend, hammering out an election platform aimed at defusing the threat from the left.

Fired on by Fischer, the Greens party congress hammered out leftist and environmentalist stances in clear demarcation to the new far-left grouping who are rallying around Lafontaine.

Platform planks included higher taxes on the rich, better day-care programmes for double-earner families and tax breaks for future- oriented, environmentally friendly technologies.

But Fischer's remarks come as opinion surveys show that the Left Party could garner more than 10 per cent in the election. Political analysts say that would doom any chance of Schroeder's SPD remaining in power with its junior coalition partners, the Greens.

Analysts predict meanwhile that such a development in the general election might well result in the formation of a grand coalition headed by Christian Democrats with Schroeder's SPD as junior members.

(c) DPA with Expatica

Subject: German news

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