Prominent German leftist to launch a new party that could eat into far-right’s support

BERLIN (AP) — A prominent German leftist politician has launched plans to form a new party that some observers think could take votes away from the far-right Alternative for Germany.

Sahra Wagenknecht on Monday presented her “Sahra Wagenknecht Alliance — for Reason and Fairness.” The aim is to formally launch the party in January, in time for European Parliament elections in June. Three state elections in Germany’s formerly communist east will follow next fall.

Wagenknecht offers a combination of left-wing economic policy, with high wages and generous benefits, and a restrictive approach to migration. She also questions some environmentalists’ plans to combat climate change and opposes current sanctions against Russia, which was once Germany’s leading gas supplier, and German arms supplies to Ukraine.

Wagenknecht is launching her project at a time when center-left Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s quarrelsome three-party coalition is deeply unpopular. National polls show mainstream opposition conservatives leading and Alternative for Germany, or AfD, in second place with around 20% support.

“Many people don’t know any more what they should vote for, or vote for the right out of anger and desperation,” Wagenknecht said.

Wagenknecht, 54, grew up in East Germany and joined the ruling communist party in 1989. She was a prominent figure on its successor’s hard-left wing and in the Left Party, which emerged in 2005 when eastern ex-communists merged with western leftists disgruntled with welfare-state cuts.

She said that with the economic sanctions against Russia, “we have cut off ourselves off from cheap energy without there being viable alternatives.” She accused Scholz’s government of abandoning “the important tradition of detente” and argued that “conflicts cannot be resolved militarily — that goes for Ukraine, that goes for the Middle East and it goes for many other parts of the world.”

“We must also get away from a blind, haphazard eco-activism that makes people’s life even more expensive but doesn’t actually benefit the climate at all,” she said, adding that a more useful contribution would be developing new technologies for a climate-neutral future.

Wagenknecht argued that Germany’s education system is failing many young people and “unregulated immigration is intensifying the problems in schools.”

There has been widespread speculation that those positions could appeal to voters who might otherwise choose the nationalist, anti-migration AfD — particularly in the less prosperous east, where Wagenknecht’s most recent party, the Left Party, has gradually declined over the years and AfD is at its strongest.

“This niche that is opening up — stressing social justice and at same time … positioning herself in a more migration-skeptical way — has potential,” Benjamin Hoehne, a political scientist at the University of Muenster, told ARD television.

“Of course we won’t make common cause with AfD,” Wagenknecht said Monday. “We are launching a new party so that all the people who are now thinking about voting for AfD or who have already done so — out of anger, out of desperation, but not because they are right-wing — have a serious address.”

The new party’s immediate political effect is to endanger the Left Party, which only just managed to stay in the German parliament in the 2021 national election. Wagenknecht was co-leader of the party’s parliamentary group from 2015 to 2019, but long-running internal tensions have grown into a deep rift. The Left Party’s leadership backs a generous approach to migrants and strong action against climate change.

She left the party on Monday along with Amira Mohamed Ali, the co-leader of its parliamentary group and now the chair of Wagenknecht’s alliance, and eight other lawmakers.

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