Socialist Left Party in Germany loses its most important figurehead


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The far-left populist and socialist Left Party has won 11.9% of the votes in the 2009 parliamentary election in Germany, and thus has become 4th largest party and 2nd largest opposition party in the parliament.

The party demands a "democratic socialism", stronger social welfare nets, a strict curbing of the financial sector in favor of a "redistribution of wealth from the top to the bottom", the immediate withdrawal of the German military from Afghanistan and all other places abroad.

The party is the successor of the former communist state party which governed East Germany from 1949 to 1990.

This party has now lost its most important figurehead, Oskar Lafontaine.

After having undergone treatment for prostate cancer, Oskar Lafontaine now announced he will not candidate again in the upcoming party convention for the office of party co-chairman and parliamentary floor leader, because of his health situation. He said "the cancer was a warning shot I cannot ignore", stating he will be occupied with his health for the time being.

Oskar Lafontaine is a skilled orator, despised on the right "as far-left populist". He is said to be responsible for the recent successes of the Left Party in the western part of Germany, ending its status as an east German regional party, making the Left Party the 4th force on national level.

Lafontaine, being west German, used to be member of the moderate center-left Social Democrats (SPD), was SPD chairman from 1995 to 1999 and Finance Minister under Chancellor Schröder from late 1998 to March 1999. Protesting against Schröder's "Third Way" social policies, which he considered too right-wing, he resigned from all offices and finally defected from the SPD in 2005, joining the far-left socialist-populist Left Party, becoming its co-chairman.

Thanks to his popularity on the left, his new party managed to enter 6 west German state parliaments it had not been represented in before.

The center-left SPD had been refusing to cooperate with the Left Party on national level since its rise in 2005, because it considered the Left Party's stances too extreme, and because Lafontaine is considered a traitor among many SPD members and supporters.

Now, since the SPD lost its participation in the government in 2009 and has become opposition leader, the two parties are expected to approach each other and prepare a cooperation, first on state level, possibly on national level for the 2013 elections as well -- since Lafontaine is gone, the SPD has a much easier time to do that, because the "traitor" and defector is no longer in the way.

But before that happens, it remains to be seen what happens with the Left Party: Will it manage to remain popular in west Germany as well, or will west German voters turn away again, with Lafontaine gone? Also, the Left Party may see an increased internal struggle about the course of the party -- phony, radical opposition, or constructive force with the will for compromise, with the goal of taking responsibility in the government? If the latter forces are successful after Lafontaine's resignations, chances are the SPD will approach the Left Party and both prepare a potential coalition after 2013.

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