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Ahead of Germany's elections, possible coalition partners argue over NATO

Sep 22,2021 - Last updated at Sep 22,2021

When a man finds himself with his back against the ropes, his options are limited. Armin Laschet, the incumbent premier of Germany's most populous state North Rhine Westfalia and candidate of his party the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) at Germany's upcoming parliamentary elections, finds himself in that predicament. While leading in the polls by a considerable margin, just recently his party continuously slumped. Infratest dimap, a pollster, currently sees the CDU at 22 per cent and the Social Democratic Party (SPD) at 26, thus lagging four points behind the SPD lead by its candidate Olaf Scholz, the incumbent Finance Minister. The CDU faces the actual danger of crashing to a historic low.  

Laschet has thus resorted to attacking. In the first of three televised debates between him, Olaf Scholz, and Annalena Baerbock, the leading candidate of The Greens, Laschet followed his strategy by criticising his opponents over a possible coalition with Germany's far-left party Die Linke (The Left). He asked Scholz to his face if a coalition with that party would be an option. As for himself, the answer was crystal-clear: "I will not do it,” reminding his opponents of The Left's often controversial political agenda.  

Germany's citizens are heading to the polls on September 26 to vote for a new parliament, the Bundestag, that will determine a new chancellor. To become chancellor, the designated candidate requires an absolute majority, a goal that according to the latest polls no party represented in the Bundestag is likely to achieve by itself. A coalition government between two parties or more will thus be necessary.  

The Left has a long history. Formed as a fusion of WASG, a group of disaffected Social Democrats who had left the SPD in protest against the economic and social reforms of Gerhard Schröder, the then chancellor, and the PDS, the succession party to the SED that ruled over the dictatorial GDR in East-Germany, it has come a long way. Once merely a protest party it became the junior partner in several German state coalitions. In 2014 Bodo Ramelow was the first candidate of The Left ever to become premier in the state of Thüringen in a coalition-government of The Left, SPD, and The Greens.  

However, as of late, The Left is in a serious predicament. Failing to provide answers to daily issues and being consumed by inner conflict pollsters see it at merely 6 per cent of the votes facing the danger of falling under the 5 per cent threshold required to obtain seats in parliament. Ultimately, the party might only be saved by a law that guarantees seats in the Bundestag for every party that wins at least three constituencies. The Left is likely to win those notably in East Berlin where it enjoys popularity. Yet, the opportunity to become Scholz's kingmaker as part of a coalition with the SPD and The Greens could still be within reach.  

The Left's political program is often a reason for controversy. Part of it is the dissolution of NATO. Although not rejecting the European Union in its very existence critical and sometimes populist comments about it were heard from members of the party. Despite factions within the SPD that sympathise with parts of The Left's policy Olaf Scholz has taken a firm stand.

A commitment to NATO, a strong Europe, and economic growth, among other things, is the fundamental condition for any possible cooperation. Scholz reiterated his statement over the past weeks whenever asked about potentially including The Left in a government coalition. Nevertheless, he shies away from burning bridges and thus refused to exclude the option categorically. Annalena Baerbock, on the other hand, has taken a step back. Once more or less following the pattern of Scholz she struck sour notes in an interview with the daily newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung criticising The Left for failing to approve a military rescue mission in Afghanistan in parliament. Baerbock reaffirmed her position that Germany must take responsibility in the world and a united Europe. "During the past weeks The Left has disqualified itself,” Baerbock said.  

Initially, the increasingly tougher tones seemed to have no effect at all. Janine Wissler, the candidate of The Left, reaffirmed her party's commitment to dissolve NATO during a press conference on September 9 and rejected her party's commitment to NATO as Scholz had demanded. As of late though, her party appears not to be so inflexible after all. Dietmar Bartsch, the party's parliamentary group leader and leading candidate alongside Wissler, softened his party's demand to dissolve NATO. In an interview with the newspaper Augsburger Allgemeine, he said that there would never be a situation in which The Left would make it a condition to leave NATO. Bartsch drew a comparison with The Greens that had equally made the demand to dissolve NATO before joining the government in 1998 as part of a coalition with the SPD.  

Scholz's perseverance might have taken effect after all. Still, he will not be able to pursue his wishy-washy rhetoric for eternity. If the Social Democratic-Green-Left coalition turns out to be a realistic option the lines will have to be clear.  

The writer is a German journalist and political analyst. He contributed this article to The Jordan Times.

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