Oskar lafontaine’s political future: will he do it again?

The left-wing parties in Saarland want their popular parliamentary group leader to be their top candidate again in 2018. Lafontaine is keeping a low profile.

Oskar Lafontaine in the Saarland parliament Photo: imago/Becker & Bredel

"We need him, he is the face of the Left in the Saar," admits Claudia Kohde-Kilsch frankly. At the same time, the spokeswoman for the Left Party in the Saarbrucken state parliament vigorously denies all reports that Oskar Lafontaine has already decided to run again for the state parliament. The boss is still on vacation, says Kohde-Kilsch, who is also chairwoman of the Left Party in the Saarbrucken city parliament and a former world number four in tennis.

After the summer vacations, on 29. In between, "at the appropriate time," Lafontaine will explain himself to his party friends. It would be, Kohde-Kilsch adds, "a great loss" should Lafontaine leave state politics.

The former SPD chairman, prime minister and federal finance minister will be 73 in October. He has survived an assassination attempt and cancer. Still, no one really expects him to retire. The leader of the opposition in the Saarland state parliament still interferes in debates nationwide, for example when he recommends a little more restraint to his former buddy Gregor Gysi.

The theses on the refugee crisis, with which his wife Sahra Wagenknecht has caused offence in her party, were previously put forward by Lafontaine. It was well-intentioned for left-wing party leaders to welcome all refugees, Lafontaine said in April, "but workers, the unemployed and pensioners know that it will be at their expense as long as the chancellor does not introduce a tax on the rich and sticks to the black zero."

Polarization and popularization

He recently contradicted the Chancellor once again, "We won’t manage it that way," Lafontaine posted on the Internet. The man who has shaped the politics of the smallest state like no other over the past forty years is heard by the electorate with such sentences: he achieved 16.1 percent for the left in the last state election; currently his party in the Saar is at 12 percent.

If Lafontaine were to run again, the next election results would probably be better – also because of his belligerence. In the state parliament, he railed against the planned wind farm on the Litermont mountain. The Green mayor, Peter Lehnert, who has been fighting for this for years, is not well disposed toward the leader of the left-wing parliamentary group. He has been crossing blades with Lafontaine for many years. When Lehnert was an activist against coal mining in Saarland, he personally pinned the label "unelectable" on Lafontaine. "He was the only politician who let himself be photographed together with us, he knows how to become popular," Lehnert says, not without recognition.

The federal party apparently wants Lafontaine to run again. For deputy party chair Janine Wissler, it would be a "loss" should Oskar Lafontaine withdraw. "He is known and popular in the Saar like no other; it would be good for the election campaign if he threw himself into it again."