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September 22, 2013 4:00 PM The Weird, Weird World of Parliamentary Politics

A briefing on today's parliamentary election in Germany.

By Max Ehrenfreund

Update (4:50 p.m.): I’m still thinking about this fascinating election, and I think it can be summarized as follows. Even though the German electorate has shifted to the right, with the Christian Democrats taking votes from the liberal parties and Alternative for Deutschland taking votes from the Christian Democrats and the Free Democrats, the German government could be about to shift to the left after today’s results.

Earlier today, polls closed in Germany’s parliamentary elections. Angela Merkel will remain the prime minister, but it is still too early to say whether she will have to partner with the more liberal Social Democrats (SDP). If she does, they may force her to be more accommodating of the peripheral European countries’ financial problems. That would be a major shift in the continent’s economic policy, and a good thing for everybody, including Germans.

This is a very important election, but it’s also a baffling one.

Merkel’s party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), did very well, winning about 42 percent of the vote, according to Reuters. Since it looks as though around 16 percent of votes went to small parties that will not attain the 5 percent of votes required to qualify for seats in the Bundestag, Merkel’s 42 percent might be enough to give her an absolute majority, without a coalition partner.

But if the Alternative for Germany (AfD) qualifies for seats — early results for them were just under the threshold — then the Christian Democrats might need to partner with the Social Democrats to form a government. The irony is that Alternative for Germany wants to encourage the peripheral countries to abandon the euro. They’re obviously hoping desperately they’ll qualify for seats, but if they do, then it is more likely that Merkel’s party will partner with the opposition in a grand coalition that will support strengthening the periphery’s ties to Germany through more debt and other measures. That would be the exact opposite of the outcome that the Alternative for Germany is hoping to achieve.

Alternative is a new party, which apparently drew voters away from Christian Democrats as well as Merkel’s previous coalition partner, the Free Democrats (FDP). For the first time since the war, the pro-business Free Democrats appear unlikely to qualify for seats.

The Social Democrats did poorly, winning only about 26 percent of the vote, as voters in general seem happy with the way Merkel has governed. Still, the opposition appears poised to benefit from emerging differences of opinion on the German right — and so would Europe and the rest of the world, if the Social Democrats enter a coalition with Merkel.

Of course, it would be ideal if the Germany’s liberal parties could get over their own divisions. The Left party is too radical for the Social Democrats and the Green party, though if they totaled their votes in today’s election, they’d have as much as Merkel’s Christian Democrats.

For more, the Guardian is keeping track of the results as they arrive.

Max Ehrenfreund is a former Monthly intern and a reporter at The Washington Post. Find him on Twitter: @MaxEhrenfreund

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