AAt the election party of the left, a short groan goes through the Festsaal Kreuzberg as the first numbers are announced. 5.0 percent are predicted, the left must fear whether they will move into the Bundestag. “We have clearly lost, and we have to discuss that clearly,” says Federal Managing Director Jörg Schindler. Top candidate Janine Wissler is already discussing with other left-wing politicians in an adjoining room. She wants to wait with a statement. But even the first projections do not go beyond the 5.0 percent. Wissler would have to explain why the left apparently did not benefit from the fact that it relied on a red-green-red government. This power option, which opened up solely due to the increased approval of the SPD, even vanished into thin air on Sunday evening because, according to projections, it would not be enough for red-green-red even if the left moved into parliament.
Apparently, the prospect that the Left Party wants to co-govern in the federal government and would be willing to compromise in return has deterred voters from the left rather than winning them over. “We have to ask ourselves whether this progressive alliance was the right approach for us,” says top candidate Dietmar Bartsch on ARD. Bartsch is also campaigning for Sahra Wagenknecht to be brought up to the front again – she is still the most popular politician on the left, but is so often at odds with her party that comrades have even initiated party expulsion proceedings against her.
“Our place will be in the opposition”
The losses are painful for the party, and the word of disaster is making the rounds. Four years ago, the party, at the time with the top candidate Wagenknecht, had achieved 9.2 percent. That meant a lead of 0.3 percentage points over the Greens. Now they are around four percentage points below the result of 2017. In the left leadership, a result of seven percent was hoped until recently.
Shortly before seven, Wissler, Bartsch and co-chair Susanne Hennig-Wellsow appear together at the election party. Wissler speaks of a difficult evening, Hennig-Wellsow of a “punch in the pit of the stomach”. Bartsch says the reasons for the defeat lay before the time when Wissler and Hennig-Wellsow became chairmen – an indication of the destructive effect of years of trench warfare, especially between former chairmen Katja Kipping and Wagenknecht. Bartsch also makes it clear that the dream of a red-green-red alliance has burst. “Our place will be in the opposition.”
The left will find support on Sunday evening in a special feature of the right to vote: even a fall below the five percent mark does not automatically mean leaving the Bundestag. Because three direct mandates won cancel the threshold clause, so to speak; in the left, this rule applies as “life insurance”. The forerunner party of the left, the PDS, experienced this as early as 1994, when it only achieved 4.4 percent in the Bundestag election, but moved into the Bundestag through four direct mandates with 30 members. Four years ago, Die Linke won five direct mandates, four in Berlin and one in Leipzig.
On Sunday, the left will therefore look spellbound to the Berlin constituency of Treptow-Köpenick, where left-wing veteran Gregor Gysi is running, and to Lichtenberg, where the former party chairman Gesine Lötzsch has her constituency. The vice-president of the Bundestag, Petra Pau, who figured out chances for the direct mandate in the Berlin constituency of Marzahn-Hellersdorf, will also keep fingers crossed. After all, there is still the Pankow constituency in Berlin, but the previously victorious candidate Stefan Liebich no longer ran. Another hope rests in the south of Leipzig, where Sören Pellmann is aiming for a direct mandate. Bartsch says he is sure that the left will experience a “soft landing”. On Sunday evening, however, it remains uncertain whether it will really be enough for three direct mandates in the end.
In recent weeks, the left has tried to prepare a red-green-red coalition at the federal level. While Wissler and Bartsch contested the most important election campaign dates, Hennig-Wellsow looked at the time after 6 p.m. on election Sunday in Berlin’s Karl-Liebknecht-Haus. In Thuringia, Hennig-Wellsow had already launched an alliance with the SPD and the Greens in 2014 – albeit under the leadership of the Left.
This should also succeed in the federal government under changed conditions. To this end, the election programs of the SPD and the Greens were placed alongside those of the left, and contacts were made with the leadership circles of the other parties. The result was obvious: in social and tax policy there are great similarities, in foreign and security policy there are very considerable differences. Accordingly, the leading left-wing politicians had pointed out that social issues such as a higher minimum wage, an increase in the standard rates at Hartz IV or basic child benefits were important for them. The controversial questions of defense policy were downplayed: leaving NATO was not a must, it was about striving for a new collective security system in the long term.
The vision of a left alliance was seen as a rescue attempt for a party whose permanent opposition has apparently exhausted itself. Hennig-Wellsow had repeatedly pointed out that 80 percent of party members were in favor of government. The left could also point to strong forces in the left wing of the SPD who would clearly prefer such an alliance to a traffic light coalition with the FDP. “Linke or Lindner”, Bartsch had called it. But this alternative no longer exists.