German Left Leader Unveils Populist Project as Parties Splinter

(Bloomberg) -- Germany’s most prominent far-left leader unveiled a self-styled movement that seeks to attract voters from the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany party, adding to a splintering political landscape.

The initiative led by Sahra Wagenknecht, deputy parliamentary chief of the anti-capitalist Left party, is the latest sign of migration’s power to disrupt politics in Europe’s biggest economy, even as Chancellor Angela Merkel holds together a government of the two biggest parties.

Wagenknecht, flanked by Social Democrat and Green party backers, blamed Merkel’s Christian Democrat-led coalition for policies she said had alienated and left behind many ordinary Germans. She presented a website dubbed “Rise Up” that focuses on themes such as higher wages and secure jobs.

“Many people justifiably say, ‘This isn’t for me, this is not democracy, my voice isn’t being heard,”’ Wagenknecht said at a news conference in Berlin on Tuesday. “That’s the feeling these people have, and that sense is justified.”

Three years after a record influx of refugees, migration is once again inflaming German politics. Far-right marchers in the eastern city of Chemnitz have been protesting a fatal stabbing by suspected asylum seekers and polls suggest support for Alternative for Germany, or AfD, is at an all-time high.

Not Racist

Wagenknecht said the grievances of anti-migration protesters in Chemnitz shouldn’t be ignored. They’re marching “not because they’re racists and xenophobes, but because they feel themselves left in the lurch,” she said.

The Social Democrats, who fell behind the AfD into third place in an INSA poll published Monday, criticized Rise Up as a diversion from the goal of a potential future coalition with the Greens and Left. Wagenknecht’s husband is Oskar Lafontaine, a former SPD chairman who split with the party and teamed up with the former East German communists in 2005 to help found the Left.

“What Wagenknecht and Lafontaine are doing is not a movement, but a power play within the Left party,” SPD general secretary Lars Klingbeil told the Funke media group.

Seeking to borrow from the playbook of French President Emmanuel Macron, whose En Marche movement brushed aside old parties, Rise Up was started by a group of left-oriented politicians, academics and union activists and has collected more than 100,000 online members.

German politics has been in upheaval since last year’s election, when the AfD became the first far-right party to win seats in parliament since the immediate aftermath of World War II. This week’s INSA poll put support for the AfD at 17 percent, compared with 16 percent for the Social Democrats, while Merkel’s bloc gained half a percentage point to 28.5 percent.

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