German voters dump Kohl in turn to left

By Tim Wheeler, People's Weekly World, n.d. [January 1998]

Klaus Steiniger, a leader of the Berlin branch of the German Communist Party (DKP), told the World the crushing election defeat of German Chancellor Helmut Kohl is an historic victory and a chance to do something about Germany's unemployment crisis. We were fighting for these results and it is the best possible outcome, said Steiniger, speaking by telephone from his home in Hellersdorf, a suburb of East Berlin where he serves as an elected councilmember on the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS) ticket. Steiniger exulted at the dramatic shift of eastern German voters against Kohl and his right wing, corporate policies.

These are the same east Germans who flocked to Kohl after the fall of the German Democratic Republic, he said, referring to former socialist East Germany, which the Kohl regime annexed in 1989. Now they have voted Kohl out of office. Despite Kohl's rosy promises, the unemployment rate in eastern Germany is three times higher than in the west where it is also chronically at double digit levels. The task in this election was to defeat Kohl and his government, Steiniger said. Kohl was defeated in the east.

The election in which 82.3 percent of Germany's 60 million voters cast ballots, ended Kohl's 16-year rule and opened the door for a center-left government led by Chancellor-elect, Gerhard Schroeder, whose Social Democratic Party (SDP) gained 40.9 percent of the popular vote or 298 of the 669 seats in the German Bundestag, compared to 35 percent or 245 seats, for Kohl's Christian Democratic Union (CDU). The Green Party picked up 6.7 percent or 47 seats and the expectation is that Schroeder will form a coalition with the environmentalist Greens. Schroeder indicated he may name Joschka Fischer, Green Party leader, as foreign minister.

Bundestag deputies are selected either directly by the constituents of a particular district or from a list of party candidates. It is a system of proportional representation in which seats are allotted based on a party's share of the popular vote. It avoids the undemocratic winner-take-all system in the United States.

The dramatic winner in east Germany is the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS), which secured 20 percent of the vote in the east despite ferocious redbaiting by Kohl. For Germany as a whole, the PDS share of the vote rose from 4.4 percent to 5.1 percent.

A statement faxed to the World by the DKP hailed the election outcome in which Kohl suffered avalanche-like losses. Helmut Kohl has been presented with the bill for his socially reactionary policies, the statement added.

This ends the ‘Kohl Era.’ Mass unemployment and the erosion of social services were the reason for his defeat.

The DKP credited a nationwide surge of grassroots demonstrations and rallies by the German labor movement, the unemployed and other mass organizations for galvanizing the dump-Kohl vote. It is important to continue with extra-parliamentary activities to let those in parliament feel what is stiring outside. Pressure is needed to make Schroeder fulfill his promise of 100,000 new jobs and apprenticeships and for other progressive demands.

The election priorities of the DKP were: Get rid of Kohl, get the PDS into parliament, strengthen the DKP. The DKP contributed to a uniting of the left forces against the right. . .campaigned for a new political direction and encouraged voters to use their second vote for the PDS. . .DKP members were also running as candidates, either for the PDS or as candidates for the DKP.

Especially significant, the statement said, is the entry of the PDS as a party caucus into parliament. This is the first time since 1953 that a left socialist party has had this presence.

A statement from the PDS hailed the outcome as a success of historic significance. . . The CDU got its worst score since the existence of the Federal Republic of Germany ... This is the answer of the voters to the neo-liberal policies, to the dismantling of the welfare state, to persistent mass unemployment. . .for the first time in German parliamentary history there emerges the possibility to form a red-green coalition government.

The PDS, it added, is the only party besides the SPD which won half a million new votes, i.e., 25 percent of its total number.

The statement added, Of particular importance is the fact that it managed for the first time to overcome the 5 percent barrier in all of Germany. . .and will re-enter the Bundestag with a group of 35 deputies, an increase of five. In this way, it was able to introduce European normality—the existence and acceptance of a political party to the left of the Social Democrats—in Germany. The discrimination against its deputies in parliament has now, hopefully, come to an end.

The statement reported that 60 percent of PDS candidates elected to the Bundestag are women including Petra Pau, young chairperson of the Berlin PDS who defeated Social Democrat Wolfgang Thierse even though he was backed by the Greens. The PDS won 6 percent of the youth vote nationwide—above its percentage of the population as a whole.

The PDS also successfully defended the four Berlin seats it won in 1994 winning four direct mandates, or outright election. The PDS racked up an impressive 325,861 votes in Berlin, 16.7 percent of the total. In Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, also in the east, the PDS got 268,086 votes or 24.8 percent of the total. The total popular vote for the PDS across the nation was 2.5 million.

Steiniger said the DKP was crucial in the PDS' dramatic gains in western Germany. Hamburg, for example, gave PDS 22,525 votes or 2.5 percent.

The DKP is much stronger than the PDS in western Germany, Steiniger said. Our members campaigned all across Germany in support of PDS candidates but we also showed the face of the DKP, Steiniger said.

In districts where we did not have our own candidates, we told people, 'We are German Communists and we urge you to vote for the PDS candidate. The DKP pursued this united front approach even though they have deep differences with the PDS which Steiniger described as a reformist party that has abandoned the struggle for socialism. We are not sectarians, he said.

Steiniger hailed one other election result. During regional elections, last April, the neo-fascists gained 12.9 percent of the vote, he said.

But this time, they got only 2.9 percent. They didn't win a single seat. All the most reactionary elements voted for Kohl.