Germany gears up for polls
German left is fighting bitterly for the third position as neo-Nazis are trying to emerge through the September 24 poll.
While pundits and news outlets, the world over, say the outcome of the September 24 elections in Germany has already been decided in favour of Germany's chancellor, Angela Merkel, the country's Left Party (Die Linke) begs to differ. "The truth is that none of the important stuff has been decided," Andreas Gunther, the head of Die Linke's Department of International Policy, said in Berlin's historic Karl-Liebknecht-Haus, the party's national headquarters. "What happens on September 24 depends heavily," he said, "on how strong the Die Linke vote is."
Merkel's ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU) is polling in the 35 per cent range and the Social Democrats (SPD), who rule alongside them in a "Grand Coalition," are polling in the low 20s. While those parties are indeed expected to come in first and second, respectively, the real fight is over who will become Germany's main opposition party by placing third. In the latest daily tracking polls, Die Linke is that party, with 11 per cent, but the neo-Nazi Alternative for Germany party (AfD) is right on its heels with 10 per cent. The main opposition party gets to answer and challenge the chancellor's proposals in the Bundestag and a number of ministry appointments also go to that party.
Die Linke currently has 64 seats in the 600-member Bundestag while the AfD has none. If possible, Die Linke would like to keep it that way, or at least prevent the AfD from coming in third and taking on the role of the main opposition. "We have a tough fight," explained Gunther, "because we are the only party that does not have corporate support or backing from the moneyed interests." He said that, in some ways, the ascendency of Donald Trump to the presidency in the United States makes life more difficult for Die Linke. "Trump is so bad," he said, "that he makes Angela Merkel look good. She appears as a reasonable social democratic type when compared to Trump." Gunther rejects, however, any idea that Merkel is now somehow the "leader of the free world," as she is sometimes heralded by some in the US media. "Merkel is the flag-holder for the big multinational corporations," he said. "She defends their interests first and foremost. She sounds a little better because she is forced to. She had to enter a coalition with the Social Democrats to stay in power, so she has to at least sound progressive." Gunther was asked what it is about Die Linke that will attract enough voters to achieve its electoral goals in September 24 elections. "It's our program," he said. "We are for social fairness, disarmament, and for peace. We are clear about this and people can count on us to stick to this program. We fight hard to let people know that we will never accept a society where children grow up in poverty while the number of millionaires and billionaires is rising."
Gunther said there are two big differences between Die Linke and all the other parties that he believes will help it attract voters. "One is that we will never, like all the other parties, form a coalition with the chancellor. And the other is that we oppose war. Voters know that they have to vote for us if they want to pull all German soldiers back from abroad. We want to spend the money saved on the refurbishment of schools. No German troops abroad, not even as part of NATO, or the UN, or anything else!"
Two floors below Gunther's office, campaign workers were busy clipping together posters and organising bundles of leaflets outlining Die Linke's 2017 election program, including higher pensions, unemployment benefits, better wages, higher taxes on the rich, improved healthcare, and the withdrawal of German troops from Afghanistan and elsewhere. It's the kind of activity that went on in Karl-Liebknecht-Haus in the 1920s and 30s as well when it served as the headquarters of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD), then the country's third largest party. Named after Karl Liebknecht, the KPD leader who was assassinated by military death squads in 1919; the building was constructed originally as a factory but served as the KPD's central offices in the years before fascism. It was the site of the last mass anti-Nazi demonstration just five days before Hitler came to power. Today, the activists inside are still engaged in the struggle.
One of these campaign workers, Konstantin Krex, was answering phones. "Lots of people are calling in here," he said, "wanting to know what our positions are on various things, and I try to help them out with answers," Krex said he also spends a lot of time on social media, particularly Facebook, to help get out the word. "Our social media operation is better than anyone else's," he boasted. Krex was asked about door-to-door, person-to-person canvassing operations and whether people were involved in that. "You know, we have a problem there," he said. "It's a cultural thing because Germans don't like having someone knocking on their door, asking them questions. I personally favour that approach because I think in the end people like the personal contact, but for now, the focus is on Facebook, on literature, and on rallies."
Katja Kipping, the national co-chair of Die Linke, has been, nevertheless, urging adoption of door-to-door canvassing methods and, in some districts of Berlin and elsewhere, campaign workers report that it is going well.
(The writer is the Editor of People World based in USA. The views expressed are strictly personal.)