“If we can get more Social Democratic state premiers, it would help us more than it would harm us,” he told the magazine Stern. “It would be good way for us to send out a powerful political signal.”
The issue of coalitions between the SPD and The Left party has been a minefield for the Social Democrats ever since the former East German ruling communist party SED changed its name to the PDS in 1990. The PDS re-branded itself as Die Linke or The Left, in 2007.
It has long been assumed that any public signs that the Social Democrats were entertaining the notion of a so-called red-red coalition would be ballot-box poison for the SPD at the national level, especially in the former West Germany. Some German states have been run by a left-wing coalition, but all in the former East Germany. But Berlin is currently the only German state with a red-red government.
The SPD's attempt to install Andrea Ypsilanti as state premier in Hesse this year, with Die Linke in support, though not in government, came to a messy and embarrassing conclusion in November, as four of their own party representatives refused to close ranks and vote for her.
Now Müntefering has attempted to draw a line under that episode by saying that the debate about red-red coalitions would not influence 2009's general election. “People don't care about that anymore,” he said.
He said he was not scared of the potentially damaging effect of possible red-red coalitions in Thuringia and Saarland, who are going into state elections directly before the general election.
The Left party remains untouchable at the federal level for many in the SPD, because the leftists espouse policies that are widely considered populist and wholly unrealistic - such as encouraging Germany to leave NATO and demanding the rolling back of recent welfare reforms judged to have made the German economy more competitive.
The 68-year-old Müntefering, one of the most prominent and popular SPD politicians, also made clear that he wants to remain party chairman for some time. He was elected to the post for the second time in October and intends put himself forward next year as well.