European elections: How Wagenknecht is shaking up politics

European elections: How Wagenknecht is shaking up politics

After the European elections, Sahra Wagenknecht’s coalition is delighted with its first success. Her 6.2 percent is not a lot of money. But the result has consequences.

6.2 percent nationwide from the start: The Sahra Wagenknecht Alliance, which was only founded in January, has achieved considerable success in its first test in the European elections. “We will change politics in Germany,” Wagenknecht shouted on Sunday evening to cheering supporters in Berlin. The small party is still a long way from that. But the BSW could really shake up the political structure.

Since Wagenknecht’s party is particularly popular in eastern Germany, it could become a force to be reckoned with in the state elections in Thuringia, Saxony and Brandenburg in September. Coalitions could be tested there for the first time. The next stop is the federal election. Wagenknecht is scoring points partly at the expense of the AfD, but above all at the expense of her former party, Die Linke, which she left in October after a dispute. The party is now seriously fighting for survival after a European result of 2.7 percent.

Why the BSW is successful

“The BSW has filled a gap: a left-leaning social policy and a right-leaning social policy,” says Potsdam political scientist Jan Philipp Thomeczek, who has looked at the BSW in several analyses. For example, the BSW is fighting for higher pensions and a higher minimum wage, but is slowing down on climate protection and the acceptance of refugees. This mixture is new for Germany. Added to this is the populist approach, says Thomeczek. By this he means Wagenknecht’s rhetoric as a supposed advocate of the little people against “those at the top”. She calls the traffic light parties in particular either dangerous, stupid, deceitful or hypocritical. This is particularly well received in the east: according to projections, the BSW received more than 13 percent of the vote in eastern Germany.

How Wagenknecht dominates

From the researcher’s point of view, however, the personalization of the new party is unprecedented. “Everyone knows Sahra Wagenknecht, that’s really unusual,” says Thomeczek. “She polarizes, she has many critics, but also many fans.” She essentially determines the party’s substantive positions – her “counter-program” to established politics is contained in her 2021 bestseller “The Self-Righteous”. Other BSW top figures – including co-chair Amira Mohamed Ali, general secretary Christian Leye and the top European candidates Fabio De Masi and Thomas Geisel – pale behind her. The party founder herself was emblazoned on election posters for the European elections, even though she did not run. The danger for the BSW: “If for some reason she is no longer there, the party will definitely not make it into the Bundestag,” says Thomeczek.

What attracted attention in the election campaign

Nothing mobilized the BSW election campaign like the topic of war and peace. This is very important to her supporters, says Wagenknecht. “They are rightly very worried that the war in Ukraine will become a major European war and they hope that the focus will not always be on weapons and the military card.” Wagenknecht calls for negotiations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, warns against arms deliveries to Ukraine, and casts doubt on the USA and NATO. In doing so, she speaks from the heart to her supporters. “This is the only party worth voting for,” said a doctor in the audience at the BSW closing rally in Berlin on Thursday. And his companion: “We are closer to World War III than ever before.” Both were certain that Putin was also pursuing legitimate security interests, that the West was partly to blame for the war in Ukraine and was unnecessarily dragging it out. Anyone who does not want to vote for the AfD will only find such positions in the BSW.

Who the BSW is stealing votes from

In an analysis of substantive positions, political scientist Thomeczek finds that Wagenknecht’s party is nibbling away at the AfD’s potential. The BSW not only shares positions with the right-wing party on the Ukraine war and migration, but also the populist rhetoric of decline and criticism of the elite. But: “Among the established parties, the voters of the Left offer the greatest potential” for the BSW, Thomeczek concludes in the as yet unpublished paper. A study by the Hans Böckler Foundation comes to a similar conclusion: It shows that the BSW can fill a previously vacant position in the German party system and is particularly popular among previous voters of the Left and the AfD, it says. According to initial analyses of voter migration, the BSW received around 160,000 votes from the AfD, but also a good half a million votes from former SPD supporters and more than 400,000 from the Left.

Why the left must tremble

The Left is thus a voter reservoir for Wagenknecht, even though she has moved far away from her former party. The Left still has more than 50,000 members – compared to around 650 at the BSW. But there are no celebrities in the front row. The federal chairman and top European candidate Martin Schirdewan and his co-chair Janine Wissler are nowhere near as well-known as Wagenknecht. The political concept is completely different: not one figure dominates everything, but many say a lot. The demands are often very specific – from an end to the debt brake to a higher minimum wage, price caps for food and even a price cap for kebabs. But they hardly get through.

In the end, on Sunday, the party had 2.7 percent of the vote and a frustrated Schirdewan. He sounded helpless when he said that this was “not an evening to bury one’s head in the sand.” The party would work on its structure and program before the federal election and “also prepare itself for the future in terms of personnel.” This may be their last chance.

Source: Stern

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