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German left PDS changes name to reflect new opportunities

(SPD) increased yesterday after the reformed East German communist party renamed itself "The Left Party" to seal an election pact with Mr Schrader’s arch-rival, Oskar Lafontaine.

Fifteen years after the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS) rose from the ashes of East Germany's Socialist Unity Party (SED), three-quarters of delegates at a party conference approved the name change demanded by Mr Lafontaine to make the PDS more appealing to the electorate beyond the east.

"This country needs a strong left-wing opposition and it will get it. We are throwing open the windows after these years of social dismantling and the neo-liberal purring of Schröder," said Mr Lothar Bisky, leader of the PDS.

"This is an extremely important chance for us," said Gregor Gysi, the former PDS leader turned political partner of Mr Lafontaine.

"Who would have thought in 1990 that we would be part of a pan-German party that is left of the SPD? I have to admit I couldn't have imagined it," Mr Gysi added.

With a general election expected this autumn, the Left Party will give electoral list places to candidates from Mr Lafontaine's left-wing grouping.

The alliance, proposed initially to clear the 5 per cent parliamentary hurdle, is attracting enough voters angry at Mr Schröder's reforms to make it Germany's third-strongest political power, with over 10 per cent support.

It remains to be seen whether the Left Party will hold this support until election day.

However, the party is already threatening to disrupt the election arithmetic, making more likely a grand coalition between the opposition Christian Democrats (CDU) and a Social Democratic Party (SPD) without Mr Schröder.

SPD leader Franz Müntefering played down the new party's election chances yesterday, suggesting that Mr Lafontaine was motivated by "vanity and self-importance".


July 2005


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