It was a good night for the left but a bad night for social democracy in Germany.
The regional state elections earlier in the year where pointing to a real breakthrough for Die Linke in the western states. Though it will take a much more comprehensive breakdown to be done than is possible at this point in time the figures seem to be suggesting very real gains in across the country for the party.
Before looking at the figures a quick word of explanation on how the electoral system works may be in order.
In Germany for elections to the lower house Federal Parliament, The Bundestag, people have two votes: one for a constituency MP and one for a party list. An MP is elected in each of the 299 constituencies.
But it is the vote for the list that is more important. The number of votes received by the party on the list decides by how many each parties’ number of MPs in the Bundestag are topped up.
This means that a party cannot elect any MPs at a constituency level, but as long as they pass the 5% will gain seats in parliament.
Virtually all constituency seats are held by the big two parties the SPD and the conservative CDU/CSU. The “smaller” parties (the liberal FDP, the Greens and Die Linke) tend to get all their MPs elected from the lists, and hence don’t put much effort into the constituencies)
The continued rise of Die Linke
Nationally Die Linke took 11.9% of the vote (up 3.2 points on the 2005 elections) and polled 5,153,884 votes in the party list ballot. It also got 11.1% (or 4,790,007) in the constituencies.
Their best results, as might be expected, came in the Eastern states taking 29% in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, 28.5% in Brandenburg, (beating the CDU into 3rd place), 32.4% in Saxony Anhalt and 28% in Thuringia. In Berlin (in the East, and previously divided, they took 20.7%.
Though Die Linke was expected to do well in the Eastern states, the results do not reflect a party just resting on its laurels. In all five it increased its percentage of the vote (up 5.3, 1.9, 5.8, 2.7 and 3.9 points respectively compared to 2005).
Die Linke also won 16 constituency (all in the East) a considerable improvement on the three won in 2005. (The Greens only won one constituency , the FDP won none. All the other constituency seats were divided between the CDU/CSU.)
Progress in the Western States
In the western states Die Linke also increased its vote.
In the country’s most populous state, North Rhine-West Phalia, it took 8.4% (up 3.2 points on 2005). Saxony 24.5 (+1.7), Baden Wurtemburg 7.4% (+1.2), Hesse 8.5% (+3.2), Rhine land Palatinate 9.4% (+3.8), Saarland 21% (+4.7).
Even in generally conservative Bavaria it went up 3 points to 6.5%.
In the city-states of the west it took 11.2% (+4.9) in Hamburg, and 14.2% (5.8) Bremen.
In other big cities it also increased its vote, for instance in the constituencies of Cologne it took 9.6% (+3.5), 7.1% (2.3), 10.2% (+); in Dortmund 11% (+4.7), 11.5% (+5); in Stuttgart 9% (4.1) or in Frankfurt am Main 11.2% (+4.1) and10 %(+3.5).
Even in Munich, capital of Bavaria 6.8 (+2.8), 6.6 (+2.9), 6.9 (3), 6.7 (+2.8).
These represent much bigger increase than in the national vote. In Hamburg Die Linke’s vote went up from
59,463 to 98,696 (a 60% increase), in Bremen from 30570 to 47,895 (a 56% increase) Stuttgart’s two districts from 12,218 to 20,874, ( a 70% increase)
Disaster for the Social Democrats
The leader of The SPD Frank-Walter Steinmeier described the results as a “bitter day for German social democracy”. And he was right.
It is the lowest national vote the party has received since the Second World War on 23% down 11 points on 2005. Or to put it another way their vote of 9,988,843, represented a drop of 17% compared to the 12,077,437 they took in 2005.
One might well note that this is the kind of vote that Labour is heading for in next year.
Both parties have self destructed by their craven embrace of neo-liberalism, or their failure to come up with any alternatives, in fact their decisive rejection of any, in the face of the crisis.
However there is no Die Linke to rally people towards a different way of running society.
Failure of the far right
The SPD may have nose dived, and the Die Linke may have picked up a lot of its votes, but where did the rest go?
One thing is clear, the far right has not benefited. The main fascist party the NPD only took 1.5% of the vote, a drop of 0.1 points. That a far right party should do so badly even after as steep a slowdown as suffered by the German economy in the last couple of years seems strange.
In the Eastern states the party got 3.3% in Mecklenburg Vorpommern (-0.2), 2.6% in Brandenburg (-0.7)
2.2% in Saxony Anhalt (-0.3), 3.2% in Thuringia (-0.4), and 4% in Saxony (0.8).
In the western states the results were as bad for instance taking only 0.9 (+0.2) in North Rhine West-Phalia ( where the SPD dropped -11 points on 2005) or 1.1% in Baden Wurrtemburg (where the SPD dropped -10.8 points)
Now, the history of Germany does in some ways mitigate against a revival of fascist forces, but on the other hand the same could be said of Austria and Italy. In Austria however in last year’s general election the (departed) Jorg Haider’s Freedom Party took 17% and in a regional election at the weekend doubled its vote.
And of course in Italy the former leader of “post fascist” National Alliance is now speaker of the lower house of parliament.
In the post unification period the German fascists managed to reestablish themselves as a small presence on the political scene. In 1990 Republicans took 1.2% and the NPD 0.3%, in 1994 Republicans 1.9%, 1998 the DVU 1.8%, and in 2005 the NPD 1.6 (+1.2 points).
For a time it had seemed that they could grow much bigger, especially in the depressed East amongst disenfranchised and disillusioned young men.
The failure of the fascists to break out of their marginality, has many reasons. But compared to the rest of Europe their failure to make any progress seems surprising. It is difficult to say at this point in time but threre is a good possibility that the rise of Die Linke may be acting as an effective block.
the fact that Die Linke took an extraordinary 25% of the vote of the unemployed seems to suggest this might be the case.
The election represents a very good result for the Die Linke, and a disaster for the SPD.
How this will pan out is difficult to say but the opportunities are great.
Die Linke is growing and spreading across the country. Putting done deeper roots in the working class and drawing in new forces, especially the young should help to stabilize what is still a quite heterogeneous formation.
After all success is a powerful centripetal force.
But hard times will also be more difficult now that the SPD is in opposition and is no longer in the grip of the Grand Coalition government with the CDU.
However the SPD is likely too continue to be in the grip of neo-liberalism. Every experience in Europe has shown following defeat by the right, social democratic parties have only moved further in that direction.
the reason for the defeat of the SPD is not that Die Linke took votes from them, it is that the SPD inspired no one. With this great step forward for the left there is a god chance that the politics of a real socialism can bring hope where there is now despair.
For a full list of the election results try the returning officers’ website click here
Portugal aslo had a general election at the weekend. For an article on that try the Tendance Cootsey blog, click here