Germany’s Social Democratic Party, already trailing in national opinion polls, suffered a blow on Monday as four dissidents torpedoed a plan by the party’s regional chapter in Hesse to topple the state’s conservative government with the help of the radical Left Party.
The four regional SPD parliamentarians said they would not back Andrea Ypsilanti, the regional leader, at a vote in the state house on Tuesday to elect her head of a minority government with the Green party – robbing her of the one-seat majority she had hoped to muster with the Left Party votes.
The move underlines the depth of the divisions in the SPD – the junior partner in the national coalition with Angela Merkel’s CDU – over whether, and to what extent, it should work with the Left Party, a young alliance of former east-German communists and disaffected Social Democratic dissidents in the West.
It comes less than a month after a coup that reinstated Franz Müntefering, a former party chairman, in his position with a mandate to end years of infighting in Germany’s oldest party between right-leaning reformists and left-leaning traditionalists.
Mr Müntefering called the last-minute rebellion – three of the dissidents had earlier said they would support Ms Ypsilanti – “a disaster” for the party in Hesse but pledged that it would have no implication for next year’s general election in September.
Yet Ms Ypsilanti’s defeat is a setback for the national SPD since it means Roland Koch, the conservative premier of Hesse, will remain in office for the time being. Mr Koch has been ruling in a caretaker capacity since an election delivered a hung parliament in February.
The debacle is likely to trigger fresh elections in the state, which opinion polls suggest the SPD would lose.
By persuading the Left Party to support her minority government, Ms Ypsilanti had broken a pre-election promise not to work with the radical grouping, sending her personal ratings plummeting.
Ms Ypsilanti’s miscalculation could also sour the already tense relationship between the SPD and the Greens, traditional coalition partners. Claudia Roth, co-chairman of the Greens, on Monday called the botched attempt to remove Mr Koch “a sign of political ineptitude and irresponsibility”.
Ironically, it was Ms Ypsilanti’s decision to join forces with the Left Party against the advice of the national leadership that first brought the SPD to the verge of civil war, indirectly contributing to the ousting of Kurt Beck, then chairman, by Mr Müntefering.