Monday, September 28, 2009

Democracy in Deutschland, revisited

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Four years ago, I wrote a six-part series here at The Reaction -- "Democracy in Deutschland" -- on the German federal election. It was a fascinating election and a fascinating time in German politics, culminating in the creation of a so-called "Grand Coalition" between Angela Merkel's center-right CDU (along with its Bavarian sister party, the right-wing CSU) and the incumbent center-left SPD, with Merkel the new chancellor. Surprisingly, perhaps, the coalition of the country's two leading parties proved to be fairly stable. Back then, though, things were not so clear, and the long post-election period of uncertainly was filled with talk of alternative coalitions, such as a possible red-yellow-green "traffic-light coalition" of the SPD, the neo-liberal FDP, and the Greens, as well as of a black-yellow-green "Jamaica coalition" of the CDU-CSU, the FDP, and the Greens. (As elsewhere, such as in blue/red America, each party in Germany has a colour that is specific to it.)

Make sense? No? Well, go back and read the series: One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six.

Or not, because things are much clearer now, with Merkel's CDU-CSU alliance pulling off a decisive win over the SPD and the smaller parties:

Chancellor Angela Merkel has been returned to power in Germany, with forecasts showing her conservative bloc on course for a clear election victory.

Mrs Merkel told supporters they had achieved "something magnificent", but said she wanted to be a chancellor of all Germans at a moment of crisis.

Mrs Merkel's bloc now looks set to form a centre-right alliance with her preferred partner, the pro-reform FDP.


Projections by national broadcasters, based on partial vote counts and exit polls, gave Mrs Merkel's Christian Democrat CDU/CSU bloc 33% of the vote, with the Social Democrat SPD at about 23% -- its worst result since World War II.

The Free Democrats took about 15%, the Left party 12% and the Greens 10%.

Analysts say the combined 48% for the CDU and FDP should allow them to form a stable majority government in Germany, Europe's largest economy and the biggest member of the European Union.

The SPD did very badly, just eight points ahead of the FDP, but note that even the CDU/CSU only won a third of the vote and that the governing coalition, however stable, won't even have a majority of seats in the Bundestag, the federal parliament. (Germany uses a proportional representation electoral system. The number of seats a party wins is generally proportional to the percentage of votes it gets.) This is because the Leftists, a party of former SPDers that even the SPD has rejected, did exceedingly well, pulling ahead of the Greens, the SPD's traditional coalition partner. To be sure, the 48% for the CDU/CSU-FDP is significantly more than the paltry 33% for the SPD-Greens, but it's pretty clear that the country remains deeply divided. The election wasn't exactly an enthusiastic endorsement of Angela Merkel, however much she may think, or spin, that her win is "something magnificent."

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