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German election results

September 19th, 2005

There’s a lot of commentary on the German election results at Fistful of Euros. Mrs Tilton predicts the early demise of Christian Democrat leader Angela Merkel, and given that she was expected to win easily, this seems reasonable. More from saint, who takes the same view.

Strikingly, the only reason the CDU is even in the game is because of divisions on the left, with Social Democrat Schroeder refusing to contemplate a coalition with the Left party. This BBC report gives the combined left vote (SPD+Greens+Left Party) at 52 per cent, compared with 45 per cent for the right (CDU/CSU + FDP) yet quotes Merkel as claiming she has a mandate to govern. As elsewhere, the right relied heavily on the race card, in this case appeals to anti-Turkish prejudice.

I know that there are historical reasons for party nomenclature, but I still find it disturbing that we have an explicitly religious and now openly sectarian party contending for the government of a major European country.

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  1. Ian Gould
    September 19th, 2005 at 08:02 | #1

    John,

    The possibility of the Left Party with its left-overs from the volksrepublik taking part in government concerns me much more than Christian in CDU.

    I’ll also point out that for all the noise they made in the campaign the SPD and the CDU have broadly similar economic platforms.

    I’d argue that there’s a centrist consensus on the need to cut taxes and public spending and reofrm labor laws which embraces much of the SPD and the CDU with their combined 70%+ share of the vote.

    The main party rejecting that consensus – the Left party – got only slightly more than one tenth of the combined vote of the two major parties.

  2. snuh
    September 19th, 2005 at 08:20 | #2

    well she may have a “mandage”, but she certainly does not have a mandate.

    Thanks! Fixed, now. JQ

  3. September 19th, 2005 at 08:27 | #3

    True, Ian, but consider that the 8.6 percent won by the Left Party is more than twice its previous vote (4 percent in 2002), that its representation in parliament increases from 2 to 54, that it has now surpassed the Greens and is the fourth-strongest party in the country, that its vote in western Germany increased substantially–not only in its traditional power base in the East.

    In any case, you needn’t worry. Though the Left Party has co-govered now for several years in two federal states (Berlin and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern), and though it’s no stranger to local government (with more than 60 mayors and town councils in the bag), it has no interest in joining the SPD and Greens in a “red-red-green” coalition, although it’s statistically feasible.

    The reason? The Left Party is a new alliance with considerable support not only from its traditional voter base in the East but also a number of trade unionists and other disaffected SPD protest voters in the West. It needs to stabilize its position as a credible, responsible, democratic alternative on the left of the political spectrum. It can only do this in opposition. It’s not averse to co-governing as a junior partner (it has done so successfully, as I said, in two German states) but in the coming four years it would be disastrous to join the SPD and Greens on the federal level. Then they would become complicit in the very “neo-liberal” policies (tax breaks for the wealthy, compulsory welfare jobs for the poor, reduced social benefits) that they opposed during the campaign. So it’s not going to happen.

    There are only two possible coalitions now open to the Bundestag parties, if red-red-green is excluded. A “grand coalition” with the CDU/CSU and SPD, or a “traffic-light coalition” of the SPD, FDP and Greens. Either would be problematic, and both would help the Left Party in the long run. Ideally, from their point of view, would be “traffic light” because it leaves the Greens in government and the Left as the sole democratic left opposition.

    So Germany may be entering a period of instability, and the Left will be around, I think, for a long time. This is a party that not only knows how to win campaigns, it also knows how to govern.

  4. Homer Paxton
    September 19th, 2005 at 09:37 | #4

    Germany needed a government to enlarge and fulfil the reforms started by Schroeder.

    I wanted a CDU& FD government with a strong showing from the FD to do this.
    I actually think this is the worst vote Germany could have got.

    There will be a new election in Germany sooner rather than later.
    May even be the case in NZ too.

  5. stoptherubbish
    September 19th, 2005 at 12:55 | #5

    I find it interesting that as the politics of neo liberalism gets trickier and trickier (people want to vote against incumbents, but are clearly rejecting the market mullah neo liberal alternatives) the powerful. or rather their paid shills in politics and the media, are incresaingly resorting to playing the ‘race card’. Sometimes in the guise of an appeal to “we are all equal, no special treatment’ (NZ) or sometimes in an attempt to demonise so called ‘elities’ who have supposedly undermined the patriotic fatherland with ‘experiments in multi culti politics’. This was the Hansonist cri de couer, which has been cleverly deployed since by scribblers for News and the more shall we say, ‘colourful identities’ in shock jock land, and played superbly by Howard and Ruddoch.

    Both the CDU and the NZ Nats, deployed similar politics and played on similar kinds of anxieties as a way of mobilising support beyond their usual social base.

    While I am not yet alarmed, I am alert, and I would suggest that every small ‘l’ liberal should be equally so. It was inconcievable even at the height of the cold war, for conservatives to utilise rascism as a tool of social order and conformity. Those few that did so, were understood to be far right wingnuts, and were treated accordingly by both sides of politics.

    This situation has changed utterly. It seems to me that the neo liberal project under any kind of political strain, demonstrates that the ‘liberal’ bit of that project , will be quickly jettisoned in favour of the most reactionary and dangerous kinds of politics, in the event that the powerful sniff even a hint of resistance to the drive to relocate power in a number of democracies. This tendency to mobilise race appears to apply particularly to those polities that have a populist kind of social democratic tradition-it is far less noticable, indeed it is quite absent from conservative political strategies in the uS.

    It would appear that there are no longer any taboos of any kind, that nothing is ‘off limits’, as it were, in the attempt to trawl for votes across and around various social categories, using fear, anxiety and cultural discomforts as ‘ballot bait’ for those who must be wooed and counted to ensure a semblance of populist support for the ‘project’.

    In my view, we are fast approaching the position, when real small ‘l’ liberals will have to take a stand, or be condemned by history, in the way stalinists in the ’30s have been rightly condemned. It is politics of the worst kind, to stand aloof from the kind of thing we are witnessing, in the UK, Germany and New Zealand, and to ascribe opposition and distaste for this kind of politics as a form of elitism. Let us not forget, the term ‘elitist’ was deployed by those who, over 70 years ago, practised their ‘kultur Kampf’ against threats to the established order, and their assistance was gratefully received, for a time, by those who later bittelry regretted their mistake.

  6. MB
    September 19th, 2005 at 13:22 | #6

    Merkel has so far ruled out joining the SPD in government, but I suppose this might change if the CDU-CSU fail to win government on their own, or with the FDP. I also think Schroeder will welcome this because he will be able to pass off unpopular employment and welfare reforms being pressed on him by the markets as a necessary condition for having the CDU in the government. As ever, there will probably be a fair bit of interest in gains made by minor parties on the Left and Right, such as the Left Party, or the usual swag of extreme right-wingers. In fairness to the Left Party to try to pass them off as a throwback to the DDR is a bit much–Honecker and his cronies are long gone. For the most part its supporters are unemployed East Germans and disaffected SPD supporters.

  7. Homer Paxton
    September 19th, 2005 at 13:36 | #7

    stopthe rubbish,

    I think if you look clearly only the FD are neo-liberal.
    Indeed the SDP & greens produced more neo-liberal policies than the CDU & FD did in government previously.

    I think a more relevant criticism of Merkel was that she was either too timid or too scared to introduce more reform programs.

  8. Paul Norton
    September 19th, 2005 at 13:45 | #8

    MB wrote:

    “Merkel has so far ruled out joining the SPD in government, but I suppose this might change if the CDU-CSU fail to win government on their own, or with the FDP. I also think Schroeder will welcome this because he will be able to pass off unpopular employment and welfare reforms being pressed on him by the markets as a necessary condition for having the CDU in the government.”

    Although it could be argued that Schroeder could achieve the same thing by pointing to the need to reach agreement with the CDU-controlled Upper House, and with the FDP as part of a “traffic light” coalition along with the Greens.

  9. Homer Paxton
    September 19th, 2005 at 14:02 | #9

    No Schroeder would only agree to it IF the SDP has more seats than the CDU. same same for Merkel thus no grand coalition

  10. gordon
    September 19th, 2005 at 17:22 | #10

    Prof.Quiggin says: “I still find it disturbing that we have an explicitly religious and now openly sectarian party contending for the government of a major European country”. If he finds this disturbing, the US President must send him into something like certifiable lunacy.

  11. brian
    September 19th, 2005 at 21:16 | #11

    The emergence of The Left in the German elections is a taste of what may happen places as dissatisfaction with social democratic parties that adopt neo-liberal”reforms” spreads. Just last week in affluent Norway, possible the richest democracy on earth, a conservative government was defeat and replaced by a Labor+Green+Left-Socialist coalition in a quite decisive result. I suppose you could see the recent increase in votes and seats for the Liberal Democrats in the UK as similar as British Labor under Blair has become a kind of conservative party. I would find it impossible to vote for a government led by the Blair and the terrible Jack Straw…so the Lib-Dems are a kind of left-protest party,as are the Left Party in Germany

  12. Brian Bahnisch
    September 20th, 2005 at 00:17 | #12

    Just remember that the election is not over yet. Dresden still has to vote, which they will do on October 2.

    Until then Schroeder would be able to carry on in caretaker mode. It is possible he will attempt a minority government in coalition with the Greens, with the option of another election after he has put through the reforms unacceptable to the Left Party and the left within his own party.

  13. Ian Gould
    September 20th, 2005 at 07:44 | #13

    >The emergence of The Left in the German elections is a taste of what may happen places as dissatisfaction with social democratic parties that adopt neo-liberalâ€?reformsâ€? spreads…. a conservative government was defeat and replaced by a Labor+Green+Left-Socialist coalition in a quite decisive result.

    Somehow I don’t think that result (a decisive win for the left) is going to push the centre-left to abandon rational economics.

  14. Geoff R
    September 20th, 2005 at 15:30 | #14

    Some observations: 1. CDU is not really a sectarian party, calling themselves Christian was in post WW2 Germany an anti-sectarian statement given past Catholic v Protestant conflict; 2. if the left was accused of blaming voters after 2004 here and in US, now we have the right doing so; 3. how much European unemployment is due to tight fiscal and monetary policy (unlike US)?; 4. I doubt most SPD voters support ‘reforms’

  15. September 20th, 2005 at 22:37 | #15

    Geoff, I think you might be right that it’s questionable “most SPD voters support ‘reforms’.”

    The SPD strategy to win back voters who were planning to vote in protest against Hartz IV for the Left was to readjust its platform towards the left; so did the Greens.

    Exit polls showed that “social justice” was the number one issue for SPD and Left voters alike; and in Germany that’s often a code word for the “social state.” It was the second most important issue for Green voters (after the environment, of course). It was hardly on the radar for Union and FDP voters.

    The SPD was in danger of losing at least 2 million voters to the Left, according to the early polls. In the end, they were able to cut that loss to 1 million. The difference, I think, was that the SPD succeeded in running away from its “reform” agenda during the campaign and attacked the Union over and over again for its reform program. So, despite Hartz IV, Schroeder was able to convince enough of his voters that he was still the champion of the social state. SPD supporters who otherwise would have been inclined to vote Left made the calculation that though they didn’t like Hartz IV, they though Schroeder at least had a shot at returning to office whereas the Left would not be part of any conceivable government.

  16. September 21st, 2005 at 15:10 | #16

    I still find it disturbing that we have an explicitly religious and now openly sectarian party contending for the government of a major European country.

    Is Pr Q talking about Turkey or Germany? Of course, in reality it applies to both. An upsurge in national ethnicity in one state can hardly help but cause an upsurge in national ethnicity in an associated state. This is the law of political reaction.

    To promote the Open Society one should discourage ethnic loyalties and encourage ethical moralities. That goes for both Wets and Dries.

  17. Michael
    September 22nd, 2005 at 12:54 | #17

    You left one model out in all your consideration. Serious politicans of the CDU and FDP are likely to make a coalition with the Greens. That would be the best what could happen to us (I am German). Schroder is unable to recognise his loss and he brought Germany in a situation which is no similar to the end of the Weimarer Republic. The voters said, that they want to have a new model of thinking and a Jamaica-coalition is really progressive and combines ecological, neo-liberal and conservative ideas!

    We will got for it!

  18. Kevin
    September 27th, 2005 at 06:26 | #18

    I found myself in Germany, visiting family, one week before elections…what I discovered was funny stuff…according to the polls Merkel had a 21-point lead but according my daily chats at the Kniepers she had no hope in hell…some gave the reason that they could never vote for a woman — some gave the tired old left-wing mantra about her being only for BIG business (yawn) — one stated, she was not a Catholic and what Germany needs is a Catholic running the show (this mind you, from a hard core Marxist…

    What I have learnt from this and the USA elections is: Coke v. Pepsi, Mc Donald’s v. Burger King, Starbucks v. Dunkin Donuts…ie., there is very little difference as we approach an oligrachy…

    Be well,
    – Kevin -

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