Monday, September 19, 2005

German Elections: What Now?

The result

With one election district (of 299) voting two weeks from now, the list vote for parties (in linked table: "Zweitstimmen"; those above 5% get into parliament, below all above 0.5%):

  1. CDU/CSU (Christian Democrats/Socialists[Bavaria]) 35.2% (27.8%+7.4%; 2002-3.3%)
  2. SPD (Social Democrats) 34.3% (-4.2%)
  3. FDP (Free Democrats, [market-]liberals) 9.8% (+2.4%)
  4. Die Linke (Left Party, hard left) 8.7% (forerunner PDS +4.7%)
  5. Grüne (Greens) 8.1% (-0.5%)
  6. NPD (National Democrats, far right) 1.6% (+1.2%)
  7. Republikaner (Republicans, far right) 0.6% (+/-0)

The Left

I think we have another shining proof to counter the centrist argument, another proof that leftist parties can gain votes by campaigning for leftist issues. After the SPD lost the state of North Rhine-Westphalia four months ago and went for early elections on the federal level, it fell to 26% in the polls – since then, being forced to campaign on the left by the new hard-left competition, it gained 8%, even tough the Greens ended up with the same and the hard left also increased, almost doubling its votes from poll numbers back then!

The Centre-Right

While the FDP outdid poll predictions by some 3%, the CDU was short of expectations by a spectacular 7%. For the first part, the explanation is supplied by opinion polls’ question about coalition preference: in the last few weeks, the popularity of a CDU/CSU+SPD ‘Grand Coalition’ fell dramatically, while that of a right-wing coalition rose – hence, a lot of CDU voters expressed their desire by voting for FDP. As for the other half of the loss, I‘m not sure. The CDU’s numbers fell before due to their own goal of being too open about neoliberal economic plans (naming flat-tax proponent Paul Kirchhof as economy minister candidate). However, its Bavarian sister party CSU lost even stronger (almost 10% over 2002 numbers, twice as much as FDP gained there), for no apparent reason.

The Far Right

Their non-story is a big story. Although they polled higher than in 2002, consider what happened in the meantime. Until lately, the far-right in Germany couldn’t achieve much because of strong voter traditions and because they were splintered (too many would-be-Führers). But no such traditions exist in East Germany – and one (DVU) in two states, another (NPD) in one state passed the 5% limit over the last few years. The second was most shocking, with NPD getting 13% in Saxony – and even more shocking was that NPD and DVU managed to forge a union for federal elections. That they failed to capitalise is largely a success of the Left Party, which drew away disaffected voters from the rat catchers – now even in Saxony, NPD polled just 4.9%.

By the way, the local creationists, PBC (Party of the Bible-faithful Christians) polled at 0.23%. That's not that much percentage-wise, but in absolute numbers, having over a hundred thousand complete nutters (and growing) is not a comfortable feeling.

Grand Coalition Scenario

The most likely outcome of the elections is a CDU/CSU+SPD government, with either CDU leader Merkel or current incumbent Schröder as chancellor. This will prevent some of the worse the Right had in mind, but also significant reforms. Except for more stealth neoliberal reforms. Also, in the energy question, this will be a union of the coal and nuclear lobbies, further picking away at the only successes of the Schröder government, which were thanks to policies pursued by the Greens. The big question is, who would profit until the next elections? It is reasonable to hope that the Left Party and the Greens will, as for the big parties, it depends on who gets the blame for failure/the credit for lack of disaster.

Repeated Elections Scenario

Or the Nightmare Scenario. Let me explain.

As things stand, both Merkel and Schröder want to become chancellor. But presently, it is possible that neither will have the backing of the majority of parliament or a governing majority. In that case, the parliament has to be dissolved – then its elections again.

Now, most people observing Germany assume that Bavarian PM and CSU head Edmund Stoiber (who was the Right’s candidate for chancellor in 2002) is the most dangerous right-populist in Germany. I disagree: Stoiber is in truth a boring technocrat, who only tries to compensate his distance from the people with boorish attempts at talking folksy. The real menance is called Roland Koch, and currently heads Hessen state.

Power-hungry, ruthless and reckless, he won in his state with a virulently xenophobic campaign, has a very macho aggressive style, wants radical social cuts and police state measures bordering on far-right demands, survived lying openly about his knowledge of the local CDU’s party finance scandal, some corruption scandals, and staging a theatre of fake outrage in the German parliament’s second chamber. He also has a history of bucking the party line when talking to the press and shaping policy on his own.

This guy is a loose cannon, but not a lone gun. He is not the most popular (that’s presently Christian Wulff, head of Lower Saxony state), but the strongest member of the so-called Andenpakt, a power alliance forged by Pinochet-admiring CDU then-yuppies on an airplane to Chile three decades ago… This group tried to undercut Merkel several times, it was their success that Stoiber was named chancellor candidate in her stead for 2002, and they tried a coup two years ago (that one backfired).

Last night, Koch appeared all too bent on showing himself before the media. He must be thinking that if no government can be formed, Merkel will get the blame within the CDU – and he will be the new candidate. Then Germany (and the rest of Europe) should beware – we would see the nastiest campaign ever, most probably fanning the flames of xenophobia with the issue of Turkey’s EU accession as excuse. If Koch will be the candidate, all Left parties should give their last to defeat the “we need a stable government, whatever its colour” meme, and prevent a right-wing majority.