Schroeder's SPD blamesLafontaine for election rout

6th September 2004, Comments 0 comments

6 September 2004 , BERLIN - Leaders of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democrats on Monday blamed rebel party member Oskar Lafontaine for their bitter defeat in weekend elections in Germany's Saar state. The Christian Democrats (CDU) - Berlin's main opposition party - were returned to power in the Saar on Sunday after winning 47.5 percent compared to just 30.8 percent for Schroeder's Social Democrats (SPD). Voting in the tiny western state was seen as a major test of Schroeder's unpopular social welf

6 September 2004

BERLIN - Leaders of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democrats on Monday blamed rebel party member Oskar Lafontaine for their bitter defeat in weekend elections in Germany's Saar state.

The Christian Democrats (CDU) - Berlin's main opposition party - were returned to power in the Saar on Sunday after winning 47.5 percent compared to just 30.8 percent for Schroeder's Social Democrats (SPD).

Voting in the tiny western state was seen as a major test of Schroeder's unpopular social welfare cuts including controversial reductions to unemployment benefits.

Lafontaine, a former SPD chairman who briefly served as finance minister under Schroeder in 1998 and 1999 before resigning, has become an angry critic of the Chancellor.

He initially supported Heiko Maas, the defeated SPD candidate in the Saar, but in recent weeks badly undermined Maas by threatening to abandon the SPD and help found a new German leftist party.

"Lafontaine threw sand in the eyes of voters and I can only say: this election result can be blamed on Oskar Lafontaine," said Harald Schartau, SPD leader in North Rhine-Westphalia state.

The SPD deputy chairman in Berlin's parliament, Ludwig Stiegler, slammed Lafontaine's actions as being similar to the post-World War I "Freikorps", an anti-democratic, rightist movement which took part in street battles in the German capital against the left.

SPD Secretary General Klaus-Uwe Benneter indirectly threatened moves to expel Lafontaine from the party.

Once described by a British newspaper as "the most dangerous man in Europe," Lafontaine has moved steadily to the left over the past decade.

He is an outspoken critic of globalisation and accuses Schroeder of selling out the SPD's beliefs to big business.

Elections in the Saar came after repeated mass demonstrations over the Schroeder government's jobless benefits.

Trimming Germany's relatively generous welfare state has eroded support for the SPD among traditional left-wing voters and fuelled weekly protests which last Monday drew 70,000 people - including Lafontaine - mainly in depressed eastern Germany.

The SPD has been thrashed in several regional votes this year and the Saar result is a worrying omen for three upcoming elections this month.

In Brandenburg state, polls show the former East German communists - the Party of Democratic Socialism - have overtaken the SPD to lead with the CDU trailing in third place.

Meanwhile, in Saxony the ruling CDU may lose its majority but polls give the SPD scant chances of taking control of the state.

Voters in both Brandenburg and Saxony go to the polls on 19 September.

But the big worry remain local elections on 26 September in Germany's most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia. An SPD defeat here could pave the way for the SPD state government to be tossed out of office in state elections next 22 May.

This would have a devastating impact on Schroeder because it would give the Christian Democratic alliance a two-thirds majority in the upper house in Berlin - the Bundesrat - where it could block all federal government legislation.

DPA

Subject: German news
 

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