Tuesday 26 February 2008

Another breakthrough for the Left party in Germany

Without us it would be deadly boring in [Hamburg's parliament]," said Left party activist Gregor Gysi at an election rally in the port city on Wednesday.

The Left Party took 6.4% of the vote in the Northern German city state of Hamburg, winning 8 seats in the provincial legislature. Merkel's CDU won 42.6 percent of the vote compared with 34.1 percent for Kurt Beck's Social Democratic Party, the SPD's second-worst result in Hamburg since World War II, preliminary results showed today. The Greens, which took 12.3 percent last time, landed at 9.6 percent, while the Free Democrats, with 4.7 percent, fell short of the 5 percent threshold to enter the state parliament.

The arrival of the Left Party in Hamburg scuppered the hopes of the SPD and the Greens of forming a coalition. The Left's gains in Hamburg bring its representation to 10 of Germany's 16 regional assemblies, underscoring the party's widening national appeal. The Left's rise, bolstered by an investigation this month of hundreds of people on suspicion of evading German taxes by funneling funds to Liechtenstein, makes coalition-building between the main parties and their political allies increasingly problematic.

The Left Party, a combination of former Communists, disillusioned Social Democrats and western radicals and revolutionary socialists, won enough votes last month in the states of Hesse and Lower Saxony to win parliamentary representation. While the Left Party is well represented in the east and has parliamentary seats in the northern city-state of Bremen, it had never sat in one of the large western states’ parliaments.

The votes contributed to a brewing sense of political helplessness.

“The German political system is now effectively in gridlock,” said Jackson Janes, director of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies, a research group based in Washington. “And no one knows how to get it out.”

"The success of the Left have recognizably altered the discussions on policy in the other parties," said Renate Koecher of the Allensbach Institute for public opinion research.

"The efforts of the SPD to re-establish itself with leftist positions ... have brought it little benefit but have rather strengthened the Left," she said.

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