Germany’s election of September 22, 2013 appeared for awhile to suggest that Angela Merkel would be able to form a majority government, not needing a coalition partner. That has happened only once in German post-war history: the CDU/CSU under Konrad Adenauer had a majority from 1957-61.
The result, however, turned out slightly – and only slightly – different.
With over 71% voting, here is the result of the second ballot, the ballot where Germans choose their party preference:
Clearly the CDU/CSU total of 41.5% is far above that of any other party. But there are a few quirks in the German system. First, a party has to get 5% to have any seats in the Bundestag. This means that in the Bundestag the parties on the left earned 42.7% of the vote. After that and a host of extra seats were figured out the end result in the Bundestag is this:
(*Aside for political science folk: In Germany half the seats are apportioned through single member districts, and half through a second ballot with party preference. However, the allocation of the second ballot seats is done to get the Bundestag to reflect the second ballot results, meaning the second ballot is the most important. This is done at the state level, not the national level. Sometimes in a state a party may win more seats in the first ballot than they deserve based on the second ballot result. They don’t get any new second ballot seats, but can keep the extra seat – the Bundestag is expanded for that purpose. All parties who get under 5% on the second ballot are denied representation in the Bundestag, but can keep any seats won on the first ballot. If they win three first ballot seats they get their second ballot representation. So if the FDP had won 3 first ballot seats, they’d get their 4.8% of Bundestag seats. They didn’t do that).
So with 630 seats, the Union has a conservative block of 311 seats, while the parties of the left have 319. Conservatives would protest that the 4.8% for the FDP and 4.7% for the AfD reflect conservative values (though the AfD’s anti-Euro stance is completely opposite of Merkel’s position), meaning that most voters had a preference for a party on the “right.” Yet those parties didn’t make the Bundestag.
So it’s possible that the SPD, Greens and Linke (left) will form a red-red-green coalition. That seems unlikely. The SPD hates the fact the Linke even exists. Die Linken are getting most of the votes on the left in former East Germany. In the West the SPD got 27.3% and the Linke only 5.3%. Here are results from the East:
In the East the Linke get 21.2 vs. 18.8% for the SPD. The SPD has vowed to defeat the Linke, which was built atop the old Communist party of East Germany, and it’s successor party, the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS). However, the Linke are not going away – they even got 5% in the West! Perhaps the SPD needs to recognize that the left is divided in Germany and deal with the Linke. Twenty years ago that was impossible because the old PDS was still too communist in orientation. Now that’s faded.
The Greens, also more popular in the West than East, have a strong civil rights background that cause them to see former communists as anathema. All this has meant that the division on the left has been insurmountable – the Linke were poison. Yet that hasn’t been true at the state level, and maybe now that the Cold War is nearly a generation in the past the SPD and Greens need to have serious talks with the Linke.
Merkel, on the other hand, is left in a situation where no one wants to govern with her. From 2005 to 2009 she joined with the SPD for a left-right “Grand Coalition.” The SPD was hurt by that, and there is virtually no desire within the party to join Merkel again – they have nothing to gain and a lot to lose. Better to be an opposition party. The Greens could reach an agreement with the CDU, but on policy grounds they come from a very different perspective. The negotiations would be tough. Beyond that, they see what happened to the FDP, who ruled with Merkel from 2009 to now. In 2009 the FDP had 14.5. They dropped down nearly 10% to the point that their future as a party has been questioned. Governing with Merkel could be poison for the Greens.
So Merkel might end up having a minority government, tolerated by the SPD and Greens (meaning they’d vote alongside the government on most issues while not joining it). That could work, but minority governments are inherently unstable. If a new Euro crisis emerged, she might not be able to get her priorities through the Bundestag.
So her victory is tainted. She’ll have a tough time getting a stable coalition partner and may have to rule a minority government. Or perhaps the SPD will decide that their party is floundering and it’s worth the risk to forge an agreement with the Linke and Greens to create a government of the left. That would shock the world, but certainly is possible. Back in 1969 President Nixon called CDU Chancellor Kurt Kiesinger to congratulate him on the election, only to find that the SPD would reach an unexpected agreement to form a coalition with the FDP, making Willy Brandt Chancellor. It’s possible, though unlikely, that Merkel won’t remain Chancellor.
So today the world reports on Merkel’s victory, and the CDU/CSU as the strongest party in Germany, gaining significantly from their 2009 result. But thanks to Germany’s electoral quirks, this victory may prove hollow – and it may not be a victory at all. Stay tuned!