Sunday, September 18, 2005

Democracy in Deutschland

It's Schroeder vs. Merkel. (And it's more confusing than ever.)

Well ahead of schedule, Germans head to the polls today with Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's SPD (left-of-center Socialist Party) facing off against Angela Merkel's CDU (right-of-center Christian Democratic Party) -- along with a few smaller parties with whom the two major parties, rarely able to win an outright majority of seats in the Bundestag, form governing coalitions (historically, the SPD with the Greens, the CDU with its Bavarian sister party, the conservative Christian Socialists, and the liberal Free Democrats).

(Note: I've previously written about the demise of the Social Democrats and the return of anti-Americanism in Germany.)

In recent days, the SPD has narrowed the CDU's lead in the polls, and it is now unclear whether a CDU/CSU/FDP coalition would have a majority of seats. But nor is it clear if an SPD/Green/Left Party coalition would either. Though 30% of German voters remain undecided, it seems likely that the CDU/CSU will win the most seats, but... then what? Der Spiegel, one of Germany's leading news publications, proposes several different possibilities:

First, a CDU/SPD "grand coalition," the first in almost 40 years. Second, an SPD/Green/Left coalition -- the Left Party is largely a union of East German communists from the Party of Democratic Socialism and left-wing SPD malcontents who broke away from Schroeder's ruling party (and its centrist tendencies). Third, an SPD/FDP/Green coalition. Fourth, a CDU/FDP coalition, still a possibility. Fifth, another election prompted by failed coalition negotiations (the leaders of the five parties don't much care for one another, and the two major parties might welcome an extended campaign -- though, it seems to me, this would help Schroeder above all.)

It's all fascinating stuff. For more, see Der Spiegel's excellent "election cheat-sheet" (with numerous links to other articles).

My prediction: Admittedly, I'm not an expert on German politics and I haven't been paying close attention to this election campaign (although I once lived there and know a good deal about the country), but it seems to me that it comes down to this: Germans like stability. And there would be nothing stable about a CDU-led coalition (not with the polls so close). The CDU may end up with the most seats (and the most votes overall), but I think the SPD will be able to form a governing coalition with two other parties (likely with the Greens and the Left Party). It'll be three against two, and Schroeder will remain chancellor. But this new coalition will be fragile and largely unsustainable. In other words, there'll be another election sooner rather than later. Indeed, Germans may very well find themselves heading to the polls again as early as next year.

(See also Daniel Gross's piece on "Das Flat Tax" at Slate. Merkel's support for a flat tax has contributed more than anything else to the recent narrowing in the polls.)

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