How the SPD relied on young rebels to win in northeastern Germany | World news

THEFor the past four years, Erik von Malottki’s main goal has been to keep the party he loved as far away from political power as possible. Inspired by young popular militant movements in the US and UK, the trade unionist was part of a group of young members of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) who in January 2018 urged delegates to vote against the joining another coalition with Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats.

Yet this week, the 35-year-old and a group of delegates the same age propelled Germany’s center-left to an unlikely election victory. While Britain’s Labor Party remains entrenched in factionalism, the SPD constructively channeled the energy of its young rebels, ahead of Sunday’s vote thanks to a seismic shift in the northeast of the country.

The victory was narrow, with the SPD edging out the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) of outgoing Chancellor Merkel by just 1.6 percentage points. Whether its leader Olaf Scholz also becomes the next German Chancellor depends on the complicated coalition talks in the coming weeks.

But in the two northernmost states of the former socialist, the triumph of the SPD was complete: in Brandenburg and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, the party won a direct mandate in each of the 16 constituencies, all but one previously owned by the CDU.

Her most symbolic victory came in the constituency of Vorpommern-Rügen – Vorpommern-Greifswald I, where Anna Kassautzki, born in 1993, won a direct mandate held since 1990 by none other than Merkel.

In the simultaneous parliamentary elections in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, the Social Democrats emerged victorious with almost 40% of the vote, a variation of 9 percentage points compared to 2016.

A closer look at the region’s electoral history shows how remarkable the turnaround has been. While Mecklenburg, the western region of the state, has a history of tilting to the left, Vorpommern on the Baltic Sea was a conservative stronghold – in part because of the CDU being able to inherit party structures built by its socialist counterpart. East German after the fall of the Berlin Wall (the SPD, on the other hand, was banned under the socialist regime).

Erik von Malottki was helped to victory by the minimum wage pledge from the SPD, which appealed in the economically depressed constituency of Vorpommern-Greifswald II. Photograph: to dpa Photo Alliance / Alamy

In the constituency of Erik von Malottki, Mecklenburgische Seenplatte I – Vorpommern-Greifswald II, the struggle for first place was between the CDU and the extreme left Die Linke. This year, we expected a close race between the CDU and the extreme right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD).

“Nobody expected us to win here when we chose our candidates a year ago,” said Patrick Dahlemann, a 33-year-old delegate to the regional parliament and one of the architects of the regional renewal of the SPD. “To be honest, it wasn’t something we would have even dared to dream of three weeks ago.” However, in the early hours of Monday morning, Von Malottki rose to first place in fourth place, 796 votes ahead of the AfD candidate.

Much of the SPD’s popularity here is due to the party’s national campaign. The center-left pledge to raise the minimum wage to € 12 an hour (£ 10.25) was dismissed as symbolic by its opponents, but in the structurally weaker regions of the North East and the Valley of the Ruhr, she made voters listen: 60% of workers in the Von Malottki constituency receive low wages. “For people here, the new minimum wage would be a game changer,” he said.

Olaf Scholz greets the audience at the closing rally of the SPD election campaign
Olaf Scholz greets the audience at the closing rally for the SPD election campaign on September 24. Photograph: Sascha Schuermann / Getty Images

Held by the monosyllabic northerner Olaf Scholz, a more familiar figure of the Baltic plains than the jovial Rhineland Armin Laschet, the promise had credibility. If anti-coalition activists had succeeded in pushing the SPD into opposition in 2018, it probably would have had less. “Scholz would never have been a workhorse for us if he hadn’t been finance minister for the past four years,” said Dahlemann.

However, neither would Scholz’s promises have been defended with the same energy at the local level without the young rebels of the Social Democrats. After failing to prevent their party from joining another ‘grand coalition’, they claimed a totemic victory in November 2019, when Scholz lost party leadership to leftists Saskia Esken and Norbert Walter-Borjans.

What seemed like an upheaval at the time created a balance that allowed young members like Von Malottki to build on Scholz’s candidacy: “We knew they would have a seat at the table when he seated himself. ‘would act of coalition talks. On the pitch, younger candidates lent a touch of populist aggression to Scholz’s statesman appeal.

The infrastructure problems in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania are obvious to everyone: Trains pass through the region intermittently and the counters at smaller train stops have been abandoned for decades. Despite local campaigns, the Karnin lift bridge over the Peenestrom estuary has been dying since it was destroyed by the Nazis in an attempt to stop the advance of the Red Army in 1945.

The young SPD candidates were quick to blame the Federal Ministry of Transport, which has been led by the Bavarian CSU since 2009. “In Bavaria, they are building endless highways,” said von Malottki. His party is committed to setting up an on-demand bus network in regions cut off from public transport lines.

Engaged in numerous corruption scandals during the pandemic, Merkel’s conservatives have done their part to masquerade as a party drunk on political power: the lavish rise of 28-year-old local CDU candidate Philipp Amthor was halted in the year last because of its lobbying on behalf of an American IT company.

The SPD has identified a flaw in the armor of the Christian Democrats. Von Malottki signed a pledge to donate any additional income to charity. On his Twitter and Instagram channels, he started using the hashtag #unbribable. Precisely because his chances of winning seemed so low, he said, voters believed him.

“None of us decided to run for office because we had our eyes set on a career,” said Von Malottki, whose father is a forester and whose mother works at the post-reunification agency responsible for opening Stasi files to the public. “We are all idealists. I expected to lose, so I wanted to at least run a campaign that people will remember me.

The SPD may have painted the northeast red, but its victory remains fragile. In several constituencies the AfD came in close second – in some it increased its share of the vote.

The center-left won the fight by facing the AfD on material issues such as wages, but it barely led the fight to the far right on cultural issues, such as immigration or gender politics. . If he did not put his ideals in government into practice, the northeast could possibly be inundated with the bright blue colors of the populist right.

“We have only just recovered from the Schröder years,” said Von Malottki. “If we don’t keep our promises, all of our gains will disappear in four years. “

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