German Leaders Scrambling to Build Governing Coalition
Both of Germany’s major parties received less votes Sunday than in the previous election and both fell well short of a Bundestag majority. Now both sides are scrambling to cobble together a majority coalition in order to form a government.
Germany’s political leaders on Monday began the difficult process of trying to form a new government after an inconclusive election that left Angela Merkel’s conservative party well short of a clear mandate to deepen reform of Europe’s largest economy. Both Merkel and Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder claim the right to head the next government, although the election left Schroeder’s outgoing government of Social Democrats and Greens without a majority in parliament. Merkel’s preferred combination of her Christian Democrats and the pro-business Free Democrats also fell short.
The vote centered on different visions of Germany’s role in the world and how to fix its sputtering economy and an unemployment rate of 11.4 percent. Schroeder touted the country’s role as a European leader and counterbalance to America, while Merkel pledged to reform the economy and strengthen relations with Washington.
Official results showed Merkel’s party winning 225 seats, three more than the Social Democrats. The Free Democrats got 61, the Greens 51 and the new Left Party 54. The latter is an alliance of ex-communists and former Social Democrats alienated by Schroeder’s efforts to trim the welfare state. Those results were based on ballots from 298 of 299 districts; voting in the final district, in the eastern city of Dresden, has been delayed until Oct. 2 because of a candidate’s death.
Merkel underlined her claim to become Germany’s first female chancellor, telling reporters before she met with fellow party leaders that “we have the strongest group in parliament and, with that, a clear mandate to form the government.” A “grand coalition” of the two main parties appeared a likely outcome. However, Volker Kauder, general secretary of Merkel’s conservative party, said it also would seek talks with the Greens on a three-way combination that would include the Free Democrats Ã¢€” winning a cool initial reaction. “We are interested in content,” Greens co-leader Claudia Roth told ARD television. “We are not interested just in governing, we are interested in politics.”
Merkel likely will have to water down plans to shake up Germany’s labor market and reform its tax system to gain a majority with a party to her left. To woo the Greens, she likely would have to soften plans to stop the outgoing government’s policy of shutting down nuclear power plants. Her opposition to Turkish membership in the European Union also is up in the air.
Both Merkel and Schroeder said Sunday night that they would seek talks with every other party except the Left Party. An exuberant Schroeder, who described the conservatives’ result as “disastrous,” taunted Merkel in a joint television appearance, saying she would not receive the post of chancellor in any deal with the Social Democrats Ã¢€” a message reinforced Monday by a senior aide.
While the German electoral system provides several safeguards that water down the worst effects of proportional representation, it nonetheless has many of those pitfalls. No appealing coalition would appear to exist here. As a result, extremist parties representing a tiny fraction of the German electorate will have enormous bargaining power and influence in the new government.
The easiest case is the so-called grand coalition of CDU and SPD. This would be roughly akin to having George Bush emerge as president and Al Gore vice president and secretary of defense after the 2000 race–except more bitter.
A CDU-FD-Green coalition is also very unpalatable, as it would give a fringe party that is totally opposed to the major policies of the mainstream CDU the whip hand in the government. This would be a classic case of the tail wagging the dog.
I haven’t studied the down ballot outcomes enough to analyze the prospects of what would seem the most likely outcome: a SPD-Green-New Left led government in coalition with various extreme left parties. This is also the scariest outcome as Schroeder’s already bizarre tendencies would be bolstered by prodding from his left.