How would the national coalition between Social Democrats and Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats fare in her home state, Mecklenburg-West Pomerania (often known as Meck-Pom) or in the nation’s capital, Berlin. How would the Left Party make out, the former Party of Democratic Socialism, which, in both states, had been the junior partner in a coalition with the Social Democrats? Finally what success could be achieved by the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party, represented till now only in the southeastern state of Saxony?
Neither of the two members of the governing coalition did well. The government has accomplished very little nationally, and what it has accomplished, or promises to achieve in the months ahead, is directed against the non-wealthy section of the population. Merkel proved not to be her state’s favorite daughter, while in Berlin her Christian Democrats obtained their worst results since 1945, little more than 20 percent.
The Social Democrats also took losses in both states. Their victory in Meck-Pom was by a thin margin. It was much larger in Berlin, in no small measure because of the continuing popularity of its mayor, Klaus Wowereit, the jolly, well-spoken and proudly gay Social Democrat.
And the Left Party? It just managed to hold its own as third party with about 17 percent, well under the hopes of its leaders.
The Left Party was a partner in coalition governments in these two regions. Its few cabinet ministers tried their best to do a good job, which in both states meant primarily trying to ease the bitter results of unemployment and financial difficulties that have prevailed since German unification.
Meck-Pom, traditionally one of the poorest, most backward sections of Germany, had been built up in a planned way to relative prosperity during the German Democratic Republic years. The productive agriculture, food processing, fishing and shipbuilding industries were lost when the GDR went down the drain, and despite gains in the tourist industry along its very attractive lake regions and Baltic Sea coast, it is poverty-stricken once again. A large number of its skilled workers, and much of the youth have left a patchwork of desolate villages, small towns and modernized but over-aged cities.
In Berlin, however, the results for the left can only be called catastrophic. All credit for gradually pulling the city out of bankruptcy was given the Social Democrats under Wowereit, while the many cuts and difficulties were blamed on the left, especially in former strongholds in East Berlin where losses came to an alarming 20 percent (in West Berlin almost 10 percent). Many left voters just stayed home.
In Meck-Pom the neo-Nazis were able to get about 7 percent of the votes, which gives them seats in the state legislature. They had already achieved this in southeastern Saxony, also a part of the old GDR. Although they did not reach the goal of the required 5 percent in Berlin, they were able for the first time to get into several borough councils, where only 3 percent of the vote is needed. The neo-Nazis won support from many of the 15- and 17-year-olds who voted for the first time, giving the party a foothold for future gains.
Their leader in Meck-Pom has been quoted more than once praising Hitler, but on the whole the neo-Nazis conducted a clever, well-financed campaign, building on the widespread dissatisfaction in a state with the worst unemployment figures in Germany (between 20 and 30 percent). They suspended the more frightening Nazi-type marches, clothing and violence, at least during the election campaign, for a policy of social gatherings, left-sounding slogans against war and the rotten policies of the government, and nationalist anti-foreigner appeals to young people facing joblessness. The party can now sound off with its threatening propaganda in the state legislature, with all the media coverage, financial support and perks that that affords.
A crucial question in the years ahead will be whether the left can offer alternatives to the disappointed and dispossessed in both eastern and western Germany and win over the increasingly apathetic voters. The shadows of a sharp and dangerous move to the extreme right, as once before in history, have certainly darkened as a result of these elections.