The results of Sunday’s statewide election in the conservative German state of Saarland point to a number of interesting possibilities for Germany’s national election in the fall.
The Christian Democrats (a conservative party) won 40.7% of the vote, followed by the Social Democrats with 29.6%. Die Linke came in third in Saarland, but fell short of its 2012 numbers by 9,000 votes, earning 12.9%.
Alternative for Germany, spiritual successor of the German Nazi Party, earned only 6.2% in what is being seen as a definitive route. After five straight results in the double digits in 2016, it would seem that the bloom is off the rose.
The Social Democrats have seen a decline in Saarland where they have governed in a “grand coalition” with the Christian Democrats for many years. Their backing of the Christian Democrats and that party’s support for cuts in social programs have led to a decline in support they traditionally got from working class voters.
On the other hand, the Social Democrats gained votes recently in Berlin, where they recently cut themselves loose from this “grand coalition” and joined with die Linke “ (translated “the Left”) and the Green Party. The result in Berlin was a sweep complete sweep of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats out of the city government there with the Social Democrats taking the mayorship and Die Linke the deputy mayorship.
The remaining seats on the city’s Senate are evenly divided between the Social Democrats, die Linke and the Greens, forming the first ever “red, red, green coalition” government in that city. The Alternative for Germany was also crushed, receiving no representation in city government
Having pushed the Christian Democrats out of government in Berlin, the red-red-green coalition have halted public transit privatization schemes and expanded squatter’s rights.
The hope is that those results can be repeated in national elections in Germany later this year.
The pattern all over Europe seems to be similar to the situation in Germany. Wherever the Social Democrats or “socialists” join in partnerships with conservative parties or wherever they support austerity or anti-labor policies they lose support and leave a vacuum sometimes filled by the extreme right. France is perhaps the best example of this with plummeting support for the fractured Socialist Party and rising support for the right wing National Front.
The fight against the far right in Europe looks different from country to country, but the unity of the left is a consistent feature in the countries where ground is being gained. In Portugal, after the last national elections, the ruling right wing party and its extreme right allies, who between them garnered the largest single block (about 47 percent) of votes, announced the formation of a government. When faced with the prospect of four more years of austerity and rule by a government made up of the right wing Social Democratic Party and its even more extreme rightwing allies, the Portuguese Socialist Party (who, in Portugal are actually the social democrats), at the urging of the Communist Party, filed a notice of objection to the formation of that government.
The Portuguese parliamentary system, inherently more democratic than the Electoral College system in the U.S., allows any party with representatives in Parliament to file an objection in parliament to any attempt on the part of another party to form a government. The Communist Party in Portugal had a major hand in developing this constitution when the right wing Salazar dictatorship was overthrown in the 1970’s.
The filing of the objection and the formation of a minority government by the socialists was supported then by the Communists, the Greens and the Left Bloc (a coalition of left groups including Trotskyites and Maoists) to carry enough votes in Parliament to defeat the right wing objections that were filed and legitimize therefore the Socialist minority government.
It’s an interesting move because the Communists and the left have not actually joined the government. They refrain from bringing it down in parliament, however, in exchange for support by the socialists of measures important to Portugal’s workers.
The arrangement solves one of the biggest objections left parties sometimes have to joining in coalitions with other parties –their belief that when they undertake such arrangements they get none of the credit for political gains but all the blame when things go wrong.
Even though the Portuguese Communist Party, the Socialist Party, and the other members of their coalition disagree on big picture issues (like membership in the E.U. and the eventual overthrow of capitalism), they have come together under a program which prioritizes the immediate issues facing the working class: restoration of the 35-hour work week for public workers, keeping public transit public, and increasing the national minimum wage.
They also agree on de-privatizing hospitals, the national airline and large agricultural concerns – things done by the previous right wing government.
The national elections will take place in Germany on September 24, and it’s do-or-die for Merkel’s Christian Democrats whose right-wing bona fides have been challenged by the Alternative for Germany and whose numbers run neck-and-neck in the polls with the Social Democrats.