Cablegate: Left Party Stumbles in Hesse

DE RUEHFT #4380/01 2690848
O 260848Z SEP 07






E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Left Party Stumbles in Hesse

REF: a) 07 Berlin 1604, b) 07 Berlin 1457

Sensitive but unclassified; not for internet distribution.

1. (SBU) SUMMARY. With the Left Party's national leadership focused
on broadening its voter base, particularly in the west, it scrambled
to undo damage caused by the Hesse Left's election of communist Pit
Metz as its candidate in the January 27 state elections and his
subsequent resignation. The Left's entry into the Hesse parliament
would alter the political landscape there by making it more
difficult to form a two-party majority. The embarrassing turn of
events for the Left in Hesse, however, highlights the party's
divisions and, perhaps, its limitations. The intervention of
national party leaders Oskar Lafontaine and Gregor Gysi suggests
that the national party leadership sees this election as too
important to squander on an unelectable candidate. END SUMMARY.

The Saga of Pit Metz

2. (SBU) At its first party state convention August 24-26, the Left
Party in Hesse elected former German Communist Party member and
hardliner Peter (Pit) Metz as top candidate. The choice was a
disaster. Metz quickly took the controversial position of ruling
out any coalition with other parties, saying that the party would be
a force of fundamental opposition. Ulrich Wilken, Chairman of the
Hesse Left Party, told poloff and polspecialist that the Left's main
constituencies in Hesse are the disaffected -- men in their forties,
the unemployed and ''socially-conscious'' intelligentsia. The
choice of Metz, however, threatened to alienate more moderate
voters, such as union members. In fact, a September 6 Infratest poll
revealed that Left Party support had fallen from 5% to 4%.

3. (SBU) Sensing the damage that could unfold with Metz as
candidate, national Left Party leaders apparently intervened: on
September 4, Metz traveled to Berlin to meet with Left Party leaders
Oskar Lafontaine and Gregor Gysi. and on September 5, Metz stepped
down. He explained that he did not realize his election could
polarize the party. On September 8, the party held an extraordinary
party convention and elected the moderate, well-known peace and
union activist Willi van Ooyen. A national executive board member
of the Left Party explained to Embassy Berlin Poloff September 20
that Metz had been ''overwhelmed'' by his new role, his family had
been negatively affected by his election, and his children harassed
at school.

4. (SBU) The Metz saga reveals the division between the two parties
that recently combined to form the Left Party: the Socialist Unity
Party (PDS), which generally supported Metz, and Alternative for
Social Justice Party (WASG), which did not. The apparent
intervention on the national level by Lafontaine and Gysi indicates
that the party leadership was concerned about Metz's affect on the
party's electoral fortunes. The national executive board member
acknowledged the difficulty that Metz presented. He underlined that
the Left Party needs time to reconcile the different views of the
party and develop a coherent party platform. For now, he said, the
Left will focus on serving as an opposition voice, although he did
not rule out serving in a government coalition.

A Threat to All Parties?

5. (SBU) Gernot Grumbach, head of the South Hesse SPD, told poloff
and polspecialist that the SPD and the other parties had no comment
throughout the Metz affair and that the Left Party was now the
laughing stock of the local political scene. Despite its recent
travails, however, the Left Party threatens to upset the political
balance in Hesse if it succeeds in getting the necessary 5% of the
vote to enter the state parliament.

6. (SBU) While the most likely next government remains a Christian
Democratic Union (CDU) and Free Democratic Party (FDP) coalition --
preserving Roland Koch as Minister President -- the Left's entry
into the parliament could leave this coalition short of a majority
of seats. In the September 6 poll, the CDU stood at 42% and the FDP
at 8%. The SPD and Green Party are historical allies in Hesse but
they currently stand at 32% and 10% respectively. Following the
line of her party's national leadership, SPD lead candidate Andrea
Ypsilanti has so far said she would not consider a coalition with
the Left Party and no influential SPD leader has contradicted her
assertion. Other possibilities include a three-party or a SPD-CDU
grand coalition (something that Koch has said he rules out and that
Ypsilanti sees as a worst-case scenario).

7. (SBU) COMMENT. The fate of Pit Metz reveals the importance that
the national Left Party leadership places on this election, seeing
it as its chance to break through in the West. The Hesse Left Party
stands at a crossroads, internally divided on whether or not to
moderate its views in exchange for a broader basis of support. If

FRANKFURT 00004380 002 OF 002

it succeeds in overcoming its internal divisions and mounts a
moderate campaign, it could gain 5% of the vote and enter the
parliament, a result that would greatly affect the other parties'
ability to form a government. If it continues to stumble and be
plagued by division, the Left Party could be facing a long period of
frustration in Hesse and elsewhere in the West. END COMMENT.

8. This cable has been coordinated with Embassy Berlin.


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