'Red' Oskar Lafontaine seeks comeback in state elections

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The Independent Online

He may have been dubbed "the most dangerous man in Europe" by The Sun, but Germany's veteran leftwing firebrand "Red" Oskar Lafontaine has cast himself in the role of everyone's favourite uncle in the run-up to this Sunday's crucial poll in Saarland, the country's westernmost state.

The best-known politician in Germany's reformed-Communist Left Party is fond of using his pocket Polaroid when chatting to voters on the streets of the state capital Saarbrücken. He gets one of them to snap a souvenir group photo of "Oskar and friends" and then hands the print to them. "It gives people something to remember me by," Lafontaine says.

It's a trick the 65-year-old former candidate for Chancellor used to win votes when he became Germany's youngest state prime minister back in 1985. On Sunday, in one of three key elections – Thuringia and Saxony are also voting – ahead of Germany's general election on September 27, "Red" Oskar hopes to get his old job back. However this time he wants to become Saarland's first Left Party governor.

Lafontaine quit the Social Democrats five years ago, after a furious row with Gerhard Schröder, the then-Chancellor. In the interim, Lafontaine has reinvented himself as one of the Left Party's leading figures. To chants of "Oskar ! Oskar !" he has been regaling supporters with the cry "I want to be prime minister."

His chances are not great, but Lafontaine could become one of the leading politicians in a coalition government that would send shock waves through the political establishment. According to opinion polls, Lafontaine's Left Party and the Social Democrats are on course to win a combined vote of some 42 per cent and could form the first so-called red-red coalition in a west German state – an option which could be a blueprint for the combined left at national level in years to come.