By John Wojcik
Shouts of joy rang out on October 27 night at Berlin’s Karl Liebknecht Haus, headquarters of Germany’s Left Party (Die Linke), when it was learned that Die Linke won the state elections in Thuringia with 31% of the vote, the highest total ever for the party in any of Germany’s 16 states.
The party’s predecessor, the Party for Democratic Socialism, was formed after German re-unification. The ruling Socialist Unity Party from the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) changed its name to the Party for Democratic Socialism and, after German unification, united with other left forces to form Die Linke.
The first-place finish for Die Linke with a larger-than-ever vote in Thuringia is an even bigger cause for celebration by party activists since the victory follows sustained attacks from the center, the right, and the neo-fascists during the campaign in this state in the eastern part of Germany.
There was a dark lining to the silver cloud, however, as the neo-fascist Alternative for Germany (AfD) came second with 23% of the vote.
The center-right Christian Democratic Union, up to now always the recipient of the biggest vote, came in third with 22% of the total.
The center-left Social Democrats, once the leading party in Germany, having been led by famous Germans like the former late West Berlin Mayor Willy Brandt, came in a dismal fourth with only 8% of the vote. Most observers say the poor showing results from years of cooperation by the Social Democrats with the Christian Democrats in a so-called “Grand Coalition” at the national level. The party, as a result, has lost its identification as a party of the working class and is seen increasingly as a deal-making entity concerned mostly with holding onto its diminishing number of seats in the German parliament.
Coming in fifth with 5.5% was the Green Party, which barely made the 5% threshold to entitle it to any seats in the legislature. The pro-business Free Democrats got even less than the Greens but enough to, like the latter, get 5 seats in the 90-seat Thuringian parliament.
Celebrate as they did at Karl Liebknecht Haus, the collapse of the Social Democrats and the near-doubling by the AfD of its 12% vote last time around poses another black lining to the silver cloud.
It will take weeks, if not months, of talks between parties to decide how to form a government in Thuringia. The current red-red-green coalition of Die Linke, the Social Democrats, and the Greens cannot continue because the three parties combined fell just short of the 50% needed to form a new government.
As a result of the election Sunday, Die Linke wins 29 seats in the 90-seat parliament. The SPD gets 8, and the Greens only get 5, totaling 42—three short of the 50% needed. The Free Democrats, a right-wing party, will have nothing to do with Die Linke, so no support for a new government will be forthcoming from them.
Die Linke leader Bodo Ramelow, the current Minister-President of Thuringia will, due to his party’s clear and bigger-than-ever first-place finish, continue in his role. Most likely he will rule at the head of a minority government trying to get support from the Social Democrats, the Greens, and a few parliament members from other parties on an issue-by-issue basis.
The only other possibility would be for Die Linke to form a coalition with the right-wing Christian Democrats. The Christian Democratic Party’s national leaders, however, have sworn never to join a coalition with either the AfD or Die Linke, which they consider a party inundated by “communists.” They frequently link fascism to communism, describing both as inimical to democracy.
Ramelow is reported by The Guardian to have said that he hopes the results will have a positive effect on those who have previously said they would never work with Die Linke.
Another interesting development is that the CDU leader in Thuringia has said decisions about whom the Thuringian Christian Democrats will work with rest in Erfurt, the Thuringian capital, and not in Berlin, the home of the national headquarters of the CDU.
The AfD in Thuringia is led by Björn Höcke, who is far to the right of even most other AfD leaders. He has used Nazi terminology in his steady stream of attacks on leftists, Jews, Africans, Muslims, and immigrants.
He is widely considered Germany’s most controversial politician, having advocated teaching in the public schools that it was Germans, not other nationalities, that made the sacrifices and did the suffering after World War II. He has also condemned the presence of the huge Holocaust memorial near Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate.
Political observers attribute the growth of support for the AfD in eastern German states like Thuringia to the economic hardships and austerity inflicted on workers there. Wages in the East are as much as 20% behind those in the West with unemployment in the double digits. Job-creating industries in the former East Germany were dismantled and sent to the West after German unification, severely damaging the living standards of much of the population. The extreme right has used this discontent to fuel support for itself.
The elections in Thuringia were the last in a series of three held in Germany in September and October. In Saxony, the CDU stayed out front with 32% of the vote. It had to bring in the Greens with 8% and the SPD with 7% to form a government. The SPD stayed in the lead in Brandenburg, the state that surrounds Berlin, but with only 26% of the vote. It dumped Die Linke, with which it had been ruling, and instead took on the Christian Democrats and the Greens. (IPA Service)