Monday, September 19, 2005


There's another election going on today, in Germany - and there the result seems to be the same as our ones, with neither of the two main parties having a clear majority. Exit polls show the Christian Democrats / Christian Social Union and the Free Democrats failing to reach the 299 seats needed to govern - and instead, that the left (Social Democrats, Greens and Left) having the actual majority. Official results are here (I think that what we call the party vote is in the column labelled "Zweitstimmen"), or if you'd like a graphical representation, here's one from Deutsche Welle:

People are talking about a "grand coalition" between the Christian and Social Democrats, but its always possible for some other deal to be stiched up. We'll just have to wait and see...


I/S, yeah, the Zweitstimmen (second votes) are the party votes. (It's the opposite way around from the NZ ballot papers). The result is fascinating and everyone here is pretty stunned. The coalition possibilities are convoluted and extremely tricky. Just about every theoretically possibility contains at least one party that has cateogrically ruled out working with one of the others. So, for example, SPD-Green-FDP (the traffic light coalition) has been vetoed by the FDP, Left-SPD-Green has been vetoed by all three parties, CDU/CSU-FDP-Green (the so-called Jamaica coalition) has not exactly been vetoed, but pretty much ruled out by the FDP. The only one which hasn't been ruled out, the grand coalition, is hamstrung by the fact that both Merkel and Schröder want to be Chancellor, and because the party vote is so close, neither will concede that the other has a mandate to be Chancellor. In particular Schröder has really come out swinging. It's a big old power-battle, and depending on the overhang seats (suggestion is that there will be 14) it could all come down to the vote in Dresden in two weeks' time (delayed because of the untimely death of the NPD (Nazi) candidate just a few days before the election).

God knows what is going to happen. But a stable government with a clear direction and a mandate for serious reform is definitely not looking likely.

I reckon the Germans will be back at the polls within a year. And if Merkel can't form a government with herself as Chancellor, she be rolled faster than Don Brash. The speculation has already begun, given that the CDU got around 10% less of the vote than it was expecting.

It's fascinating to have two MMP elections in the same weekend at opposite ends of the world result in almost exactly the same deadlock.

Posted by Anonymous : 9/19/2005 11:13:00 AM

By the way, that graphic is based on projections only, not finally results, and it doesn't include the projected overhangs. If you want a graphic with the probable overhang seats factored in, try here:

Posted by Anonymous : 9/19/2005 11:16:00 AM

Why is an SPD/Left/Green coalition so out of the question? Is it because the Left party contains former Communists? Or are they Left party vehemently anti-SPD?

Does Germany have the equivalent of confidence-and-supply, or are parties obliged to enter formal coalition?

Posted by Rich : 9/19/2005 11:59:00 AM

I second rich's question: why the bloody hell have the Left, SPD and Greens ruled out governing together? They'd have a very solid majority. Is it because Schroder is pushing unpalatable welfare reform and the Left won't accept it?

Posted by Anonymous : 9/19/2005 12:47:00 PM

From hearing various German party spokesmen on the BBC the problems with an SPD-Green-Left coalition are:-

1. The SPD are pushing welfare and market reforms which the Left reject.

2. The SPD Chancellor and Oskar Lafontaine (his former Finance Minister and now the western German leader of the Left) are personal enemies.

3. The SPD has a strong aversion to linking up with the Left, because its eastern German component is the Party of Democratic Socialism. The PDS is the ex-Communist party. The East German Communists were officialy known as the Socialist Unity Party (which was itself the product of a forced merger between the Communists and the Social Democrats in the Soviet occupation zone which became East Germany).

Posted by Anonymous : 9/19/2005 11:43:00 PM

Gary J's assessments of why noone will work with the Left Party are a good start, but there's more to it than that.

1) Essentially the Left Party only came into existence to *oppose* the welfare and job market reforms ushered in last year by the SPD/Green government. (The PDS - the ex-communists - already existed of course, but would have failed to make the 5% threshold without the union with Lafontaine's "Election Alternative for Social Justice"). That means that they are diametrically opposed on economic policy and therefore incompatible. There are other incompatibilities too: like for example the Left Party wants German troops out of Afghanistan whereas SPD/Green are committed to seeing that through.

2) The Left Party does not even want to be involved in government. They want to form a strong hard-left opposition faction to keep the government in line - from the opposition benches. They campaigned on that platform and have never swayed from hat stance, including in the 24 hours of frantic negotiations which have ensued.

3) In order to pick up protest voters unhappy with the government, especially from the far-right (Nazi) parties such as the NPD and the Republikaner, the Left Party has campaigned with some extremely populist and borderline fascist polemic, which both SPD and Green have (rightly) rejected out of hand.

The ex-communist thing is certainly a factor, but 15 years on it is much less important than the other differences that Gary and I have listed.

To Rich: as far as I can tell, Germany does not have an equivalent of confidence and supply. There has been no mention of it whatsoever. I don't know whether that's because it's not allowed, or just not a realistic option. Interestingly enough, I tried a Google search for Confidence and Supply and got only New Zealand links. That seems to be a Kiwi special.

To Xavier: Be careful what you wish for. Even to a lefty such as myself a red-red-green coalition is the least palatable option, because it would be desperately unstable and because, of all the coalition options, it would be *least* able to put meaningful labour market or bureaucracy reforms in place, which this country desperately needs.

Noone asked for my prediction, but for what it's worth, here it is:

Starting tomorrow or the next day, Angela Merkel (CDU) is going to put the "Chancello question" to the German parliament. In other words, she's going to ask the parliament to vote her in as Chancellor in a secret ballot. For this she needs an absolute majority (of 307, given that there are 15 overhan seats). She will fail first time around. She will then try again, in a second round for which she would also need an absolute majority. She will fail on that too. Then, before Merkel has a chance to go round for a thrid time, Schröder will put himself forward as Chancellor for the third round. In the third round, only a relative majority is required. Since the ballot is secret, some of the Left Party faction will secretly cooperate and vote for Schröder (who is less unpalatable to them than Merkel) and Schröder will win and be named Chancellor. Then, he will do one of two things. Either 1) he'll go to the President and say, "I'm the Chancellor but I can't govern effectively, please dissolve Parliament". The President will then have one week to make up his mind, will then dissolve parliament and round we go again. Or, 2) Schröder, so as to avoid the impression of deliberately forcing Germany back to the polls immediately, will make a half-arsed attempt at governing with a minority government, will try to get a couple of things through, will fail, will put another confidence vote to parliament, will lose, and around we go again.

If it happens either of those ways, Schröder, or rather SPD/Green will win enough to gain a working majority and will govern for the rest of the term. That is because Merkel and the CDU have taken a huge knock, while all the momentum is with Schröder and the SPD, who have already pulled one out of the bag in a way nobody thought they could. That's what I reckon anyway. Otherwise I have no explanation for why Schröder is refusing to concede that Merkel has the mandate to attempt to form a government under her leadership. Otherwise it just makes no sense.

Of course I could be horribly wrong and we could just end up with a grand coalition under Angela Merkel, but I doubt it.

(Sorry, that got rather long, but it's all bloody complicated)

Posted by Anonymous : 9/20/2005 09:15:00 AM