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European elections

German conservatives raise spectre of far-left rule ahead of election

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Gregor Gysi of the left wing party Die Linke speaks during an election campaign rally in Munich, Germany, September 17, 2021. REUTERS/Michaela Rehle/File Photo
Germany's co-leader of the left wing party Die Linke Janine Wissler, top candidate for the September general election, campaigns in Munich, Germany, September 17, 2021. REUTERS/Michaela Rehle/File Photo

A shadow is looming over Germany's election: the spectre of the far-left Linke party, heir to the communists who once ruled East Germany, coming in from the political wilderness, write Paul Carrel and Thomas Escritt.

At least, that is what Angela Merkel's conservatives want voters to think. Behind in polls just days before Sunday's (26 September) vote, her would-be successor is warning that Social Democrats, if victorious, would let the far-left into power. Read more.

"You have to have a clear position on the extremists," conservative candidate Armin Laschet told his Social Democratic rival Olaf Scholz during a televised debate earlier this month. "I don't understand why it's so hard for you to say 'I won't enter a coalition with this party'."

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For the conservatives, the Linke are just as unpalatable as the far-right Alternative for Germany, whom all major parties have pledged to keep out of government. Read more.

Scholz has made it clear that the Greens are his preferred partners, but the conservatives say he will need a third party to form a coalition government. And they say the Social Democrats are closer to the Linke on social policies than to the pro-business Free Democrats - the conservatives' preferred dance partner.

Few expect this to happen - the Linke are on just 6% in polls, half the liberals' 11%, which probably would not be enough to give Scholz the required parliamentary majority.

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But for some investors, it is a risk that should not be overlooked.

"Inclusion of the Linke in a governing coalition would, in our minds, represent the single biggest wild card by far for financial markets from the German elections," said Sassan Ghahramani, chief executive of U.S.-based SGH Macro Advisors, which advises hedge funds.

Linke policies such as a rent cap and property taxes for millionaires would be enough to spook many in Germany's business class.

Most assume that a victorious Scholz - a strait-laced finance minister and a former mayor of Hamburg - would include the Free Democrats as a moderating influence in his coalition.

Both SPD and Greens have also ruled out working with any party refusing to commit to the NATO military alliance or Germany's European Union membership, both of which the Linke has called into question.

READY FOR GOVERNMENT?

Undeterred, the leftists are pitching themselves as ready for government responsibility three decades after East Germany vanished from the map.

"We're already in NATO," party co-leader Dietmar Bartsch told a recent news conference, dodging questions over whether its foreign policy views would keep it from entering government.

Bartsch, 63, whose political career started when he joined East Germany's Socialist Unity Party in 1977, leads the Linke alongside Janine Wissler, 40, a westerner who hails from a town just outside Germany's financial capital Frankfurt.

If foreign policy is an obstacle, the party prefers to talk economics. Here it is not far from the Social Democrats or Greens and Bartsch says once in government the party would make sure its partners delivered on campaign promises, such as the SPD's proposed 12 euro hourly minimum wage.

The party has outgrown its East German base, establishing strongholds in poorer, post-industrial cities in western Germany.

It heads the government in the eastern state of Thuringia, and is the junior partner with the SPD and Greens in Berlin's city government.

Analysts say that, as a centrist, Scholz would be more comfortable with the Free Democrats, but will not rule out the Linke to keep leverage over the liberals, keen to play kingmakers in coalition talks.

The Social Democrats' lead in the polls also suggests the left's communist roots carry less weight with voters than in the past. Greens leader Annalena Baerbock said it was just wrong to say they were just as bad as the far-right because the latter did not respect Germany's democratic norms.

"I consider this equation of the AfD with the Left to be extremely dangerous, especially because it absolutely trivialises the fact that the AfD is not aligned with the constitution," Baerbock said in a television debate this month.

European elections

Germany’s far-left party eager to join coalition while others steer clear

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Co-leader of the Left Party Susanne Hennig-Wellsow speaks at a press conference during a convent of Germany's left party 'Die Linke' in Berlin. Copyright  Credit: AP

While Angela Merkel (pictured) avoided political campaigning for much of the election, as it became increasingly clear that her party was trailing in the polls, she went after her centre-left deputy with an old attack line, writes Lauren Chadwick

“With me as Chancellor, there would never be a coalition in which the Left is involved. And whether this is shared by Olaf Scholz or not remains to be seen,” Merkel said in late August.

Scholz also had criticism for Die Linke -- the Left Party -- but stopped short of completely rejecting the possibility of a coalition with them. He told German daily Tagesspiegel the far-left party would be required to commit to NATO and the transatlantic partnershipIt’s now been a constant attack line from the Christian Democrats in what some say is a last-ditch effort to grab moderates on the fence between Merkel’s centre-right party and the centre-left Social Democrats, who are leading in the polls.

Voters see “behind” the attack line from the CDU, said Dr Rüdiger Schmitt-Beck at the University of Mannheim, as it is “so old hat".about:blank

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Schmitt-Beck added it was a “sign of desperation” the CDU was resorting to this attack line once again as candidate Armin Laschet has failed to galvanise voters, polls show.

A possible governing coalition?

Although experts say a coalition involving the far-left Die Linke is not what Social Democratic leader Scholz wants, he is not likely to completely rule out the possibility.

That’s because if current polling is correct, the future government coalition in Germany will need to be formed with three political parties for the first time, meaning the Left Party has never been closer to receiving a possible spot in a coalition.

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The party is currently polling at around 6% nationally, making them the sixth most popular political party in the country.

Die Linke party co-leader Susanne Hennig-Wellsow even told German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung in early September: “The window was as wide open as ever before. When if not now?” in regards to a possible coalition with the Social Democrats and Greens.

Many saw her words as demonstrating the party’s high hopes and preparations for entering government.

But while the current Left Party has become more mainstream since it was officially formed in 2007 - its direct historical ties to communism and hard-left foreign policy might forever keep it out of government.

Communist history and hard-line views

Die Linke was formed as a merger of two parties: the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS) and a newer Labour and Social Justice party. The PDS is the direct successor of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany, the communist party that ruled in East Germany from 1946 to 1989.

“There are many people in Germany who see this legacy as a big problem," said Dr Thorsten Holzhauser, research associate at the Theodor Heuss House Foundation in Stuttgart.

"On the other hand, the party has been de-radicalising for a couple of years or even decades now. It's shifted towards a more left-wing social democratic profile in the last years, which is also something that many people have recognised."

But Die Linke is quite polarised internally with more moderate politics in East Germany and more radical voices in some West German regions.

While a younger generation of voters is more connected to the social justice issues and hot political topics such as the climate, feminism, anti-racism and migration, other parts of the party appeal more to populism and compete with the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), experts say.

The party currently has one state minister-president: Bodo Ramelow in Thuringia.

But some of the party’s hard-line foreign policy views make it an unlikely choice for a governing partner.

“The party always said that it wants to get rid of NATO, and it is a party that stems from East Germany, from a very pro-Russian political culture, a very anti-Western political culture, so this is in the DNA of the party,” says Holzhauser.

Die Linke wants Germany out of NATO and no foreign deployment of Germany’s military, the Bundeswehr.

“We will not participate in a government that wages wars and permits combat missions by the Bundeswehr abroad, that promotes armament and militarisation. In the long term, we are sticking to the vision of a world without armies,” the platform reads.

Die Linke also rejects treating Russia and China as “enemies” and wants closer relations with both countries.

‘Unlikely’ to join a coalition

“There is a chance. It's not a very big chance, but there is a chance (Die Linke could join a coalition)," says Holzhauser, yet traditionally the “scare tactics by Conservatives have been very strong at mobilising against a left-wing alliance”.

Die Linke, which used to poll ahead of the Greens and Alternative for Germany (AfD) could have a problem garnering support in the future, he said, as it becomes less of a populist party and more establishment.

“While in the past, Die Linke has been quite successful as a somewhat populist force that mobilised against the West German political establishment, nowadays, the party is more and more part of the establishment,” says Holzhauser.https://www.euronews.com/embed/1660084

“For many voters, especially in East Germany, it has successfully integrated into the German party system. So this is the flip side of the coin of its own success, that it is getting more integrated and established but at the same time it loses attraction as a populist force.”

On social issues, it's more likely to have similar demands to the Greens and Social Democrats, however, including a wealth tax and higher minimum wage. They are platform ideas that haven't come to fruition in the current SPD/CDU coalition.

But whether that means they will enter government remains to be seen, despite the perceived high hopes of the party's leaders.

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European elections

German would-be kingmaker sees legal cannabis but little else with SPD/Greens alliance

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A placard of Christian Lindner, top candidate of the Free Democratic Party FDP is placed on a board for the September 26 German general elections in Bonn, Germany, September 20, 2021. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay

Legalizing cannabis is about the only thing Germany's Free Democrats (FDP) could easily agree with the centre-left Social Democrats and Greens, the FDP leader has said, sounding cool on the possibility of forming a so-called "traffic light" coalition, writes Paul Carrel, Reuters.

Christian Lindner wants his business-friendly FDP to be kingmakers after Germany's national election on Sunday, at which the future course of Europe's largest economy is at stake after 16 years of steady, centre-right leadership under Angela Merkel.

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In power since 2005, she plans to step down after the vote.

Opinion polls show a coalition of the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens with the FDP, dubbed a traffic light alliance due to their party colours of red, green and yellow, is a real arithmetical possibility after the election.

But when asked by the Augsburger Allgemeine newspaper in an interview what could be easier for the FDP to achieve with the Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens than with Merkel's conservatives, to whom he is closer, Lindner simply replied:

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"The legalization of cannabis."

Asked to name any other issues, he responded: "I can't think of many right now."

Lindner, whose party believes in tax cuts and legalizing cannabis, said he was unsure what the Social Democrat's chancellor candidate, Olaf Scholz, stood for.

"I'm not sure what his own political position is," he said.

Scholz's SPD saw its lead over Merkel's conservatives narrow in a poll published on Tuesday (21 September), pointing to a tightening race just five days before the election.

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European elections

Russian pro-Putin party wins majority after crackdown: Foes cry foul

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Russia's ruling United Russia party, which supports President Vladimir Putin (pictured), retained its parliamentary majority after an election and a sweeping crackdown on its critics, but opponents alleged widespread fraud, write Andrew Osborn, Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber, Maria Tsvetkova, Polina Nikolskaya and Tom Balmforth.

With 85% of ballots counted today (20 September), the Central Election Commission said United Russia had won nearly 50% of the vote, with its nearest rival, the Communist Party, at just under 20%.

Although that amounts to an emphatic official win, it is a slightly weaker performance for United Russia than at the last parliamentary election in 2016, when the party won just over 54% of the vote.

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A malaise over years of faltering living standards and allegations of corruption from jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny have drained some support, compounded by a tactical voting campaign organised by Navalny's allies.

Kremlin critics, who alleged large-scale vote rigging, said the election was in any case a sham.

United Russia would have fared much worse in a fair contest, given a pre-election crackdown that outlawed Navalny's movement, barred his allies from running and targeted critical media and non-governmental organisations, they said.

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Electoral authorities said they had voided any results at voting stations where there had been obvious irregularities and that the overall contest had been fair.

The outcome looks unlikely to change the political landscape, with Putin, who has been in power as president or prime minister since 1999, still dominating ahead of the next presidential election in 2024.

Putin has yet to say whether he will run. He was due to speak today after 1000 GMT.

The 68-year-old leader remains a popular figure with many Russians who credit him with standing up to the West and restoring national pride.

The near complete results showed the Communist Party finishing in second, followed by the nationalist LDPR party and the Fair Russia party with just over 7% each. All three parties usually back the Kremlin on most key issues.

A new party called "New People", appeared to have squeezed into parliament with just over 5%.

At a celebratory rally at United Russia's headquarters broadcast on state television, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, an ally of the Russian leader, shouted: "Putin! Putin! Putin!" to a flag-waving crowd that echoed his chant.

Members of a local election commission empty a ballot box before starting to count votes during a three-day parliamentary election in the far eastern city of Vladivostok, Russia September 19, 2021. REUTERS/Tatiana Meel NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES
Members of a local election commission empty a ballot box after polls closed during a three-day long parliamentary election, at a polling station inside Kazansky railway terminal in Moscow, Russia September 19, 2021. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina
Members of a local election commission count ballots at a polling station inside Kazansky railway terminal after polls closed during a three-day long parliamentary election in Moscow, Russia September 19, 2021. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina

Members of a local election commission empty a ballot box after polls closed during a three-day long parliamentary election, at a polling station inside Kazansky railway terminal in Moscow, Russia September 19, 2021. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina

Allies of Navalny, who is serving a jail sentence for parole violations he denies, had encouraged tactical voting against United Russia, a scheme that amounted to supporting the candidate most likely to defeat it in a given electoral district. Read more.

In many cases, they had advised people to hold their noses and vote Communist. Authorities had tried to block the initiative online.

The Central Election Commission was slow to release data from online voting in Moscow, where United Russia traditionally does not fare as well as in other regions amid signs it may have lost some seats in the capital.

Golos, an election watchdog accused by authorities of being a foreign agent, recorded thousands of violations, including threats against observers and ballot stuffing, blatant examples of which circulated on social media. Some individuals were caught on camera depositing bundles of votes in urns.

The Central Election Commission said it had recorded 12 cases of ballot stuffing in eight regions and that the results from those polling stations would be voided.

United Russia held nearly three quarters of the outgoing State Duma's 450 seats. That dominance helped the Kremlin pass constitutional changes last year that allow Putin to run for two more terms as president after 2024, and potentially stay in power until 2036.

Navalny's allies were barred from running in the election after his movement was banned in June as extremist. Other opposition figures allege they were targeted with dirty tricks campaigns. Read more.

The Kremlin denies a politically driven crackdown and says individuals are prosecuted for breaking the law. Both it and United Russia denied any role in the registration process for candidates.

"One day we will live in a Russia where it will be possible to vote for good candidates with different political platforms," Navalny ally Leonid Volkov wrote on Telegram messenger before polls closed on Sunday.

One Moscow pensioner who gave his name only as Anatoly said he voted United Russia because he was proud of Putin's efforts to restore what he sees as Russia's rightful great-power status.

"Countries like the United States and Britain more or less respect us now like they respected the Soviet Union in the 1960s and 70s. ... The Anglo-Saxons only understand the language of force," he said.

With official turnout reported to be around only 47%, there were signs of widespread apathy.

"I don't see the point in voting," said one Moscow hairdresser who gave her name as Irina. "It's all been decided for us anyway."

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