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Half & half
The crisis created by the election does not seem to be immediately solved and it can push Germany into a long political impasse with no immediate exit


Jahanshah Rashidian
September 24, 2005

On Sunday 18 September the polls in Germany were over, but the outcome is in a complicated impasse. The two big parties were severely let down by voters and none of them is in the position to form a government.

This political failure of the big parties must be one of the biggest shocks of Sunday's vote. The vote was a narrow concern of frustrated electors to both the neo-liberal politics of the present government led by Mr. Schroeder and the one which is eventually underway, of Christian Democratic Union, led by Mrs. Merkel.

The results, presented the spectacle of main candidates, the incumbent Gerhard Schroeder and the challenger Angela Merkel, claiming to have been given a mandate to govern as chancellor.

The main German political parties and their polls are:

Social Democratic Party (SPD) is one of the oldest political parties in Germany, over 140 years. Rooted in the workers’ movements, the party was explicitly more socialist, but under chancellor Schroeder, it has unexpectedly adopted some tenets of neo-liberalism, 34.3 percent.

Christian  Democratic Union (CDU) with its twin, Christian Social Union (CSU) - in Bayer (Bavaria), conservative and right, 35, 2 percent.

Free Democratic Party (FDP), an adept of a liberal conception of competing market, 9.8 percent.

Bündnis 90/Die Grünen (Green party), 8.1 percent.

Linksparty (Leftist party), a new party, 8.7 percent.  

The results gave Mrs. Merkel, the highest vote total, about 35.2 percent. But an unexpectedly strong vote by her party's main coalition partner the FDP, failed to give an absolute majority in Parliament to Merkel, who had seemed confidently on her way to becoming the first woman to lead Germany just a few short weeks ago. It is Parliament that chooses the chancellor.

In recent months, she has missed no chance to attack Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder for his general policy and obsession for the political power, arguing that reforms of the Schroeder’s government can only be a part of the compromised reforms among the SPD and the CDU/FDP.

Policies of the right parties weaken the solid German welfare system, increase 35 hour working weeks, decline real wage, reform the pension system and specially tax system so that the wealth gap will accelerate. The German welfare state is a solid place for German families, with a solid safety nets provided by a benevolent state, which was a tactical policy of the post-world war 2 against penetration of the East German socialism into the West. The system was set up to ensure the capitalist system against the socialism, but the same welfare system is now considered by the neo-liberal parties to be too expensive for Germany.

The SPD received 34.3 percent, which means that it has lost the slender majority in Parliament it has long enjoyed with its partner, the Greens, which has enabled Schroeder to govern for the past seven years.

The SPD kept Germany out of Iraq’s war, initiated a European anti-American platform, opened the door for Turkey’s entrance into the EU, with the EU’s big three had a long political compliance with the hatred Islamic regime in Iran and did a series of unpopular social reforms in Germany, whose in sense, the one sure result is that the present governing coalition has been voted out.

But Merkel, who embraces American-style economics and has closer ties with the U.S., has been also punished by the voters and is not to have the majority as well. No wonder that the voters in the East part of Germany see in Merkel, because of her origin, neither a fellow eastern Germany, apparently, nor an attractive alternative to chancellor Schroeder. Her party got in East after SPD and Linksparty only the third strongest position.

The election has been widely seen as a crucial one in Germany, the powerhouse of Europe's economy, still the largest economical power in Europe and the world biggest exporter, because it confronted the German public with some very fundamental choices at a time of deep economic difficulty, no growth, high deficits and record unemployment. In essence, Merkel, campaigned for deep free-market reforms and reductions in social welfare, while Schroeder campaigned on the notion that his government already has put into place some modest reforms needed.

It is likely that Merkel seeks to forge an alliance with her rivals, Schrader’s Social Democrats, in what has come to be called a "grand coalition," even though Merkel spoke out strongly against such a possibility during the campaign. However a grand coalition is not to be a constant solution, at least with the present leaders of the two parties. A complicated further factor is that the both major parties failed to convince the voters that their social and liberal economical politics can be supported by the majority of Germans.

German basic law which came into effect in 1949 requires that the newly elected Bundestag (Parliament) sit within 30 days, but the law has not concretely predicted a solution for the present problem. Its first order of business will be to elect a parliamentary president, and its second, the chancellor.

Normally, the chancellor is the leader of the party that garnered the most votes, but German election results have rarely given any party an absolute majority on its own, and this has led to what has until now been a stable coalition arrangement - the Social Democrats with the Greens and the Christian Democrats with the Free Democrats.

But with the combined Green/Social Democrat vote less than 44 percent or their rivals, the CDU/FDP less than 47 percent of the total; it is unclear how a government can get a majority in the Parliament. All other options of coalition seem to be difficult, the loner Linksparty stresses on the topic of social justice, minimum wage, a good national health service open to all and some other traits of welfare system of the ex- East Germany, which all these are sinful ideas in the language of political parties rooted in the West and repeated permanently by German media. Therefore all parties ruled out the Linksparty as an eventual partner.

One possibility is that  Schroeder attempts to lure the Free Democrats, who got, with the effective help of high class citizens of  Germany, a surprisingly high 9.8 percent of the vote, to drop their alliance with the Christian Democrats and join with the Social-Democrats and the Greens to build up a coalition ”trafic light” government .This will have the effect of keeping Schroeder in power, but it will bring into the same government an unlikely combination of Germany's most free-market, anti-tax party, the Free Democrats, with the traditional leftists of the Social Democrats. Furthermore it is provocatively against a majority of Germans (over 51 percent) who voted against a neo-liberal consensus.

Another possibility which is more expected by the base of the SPD-electors is that the new Linkspartei, a combination of defectors from the Social Democrats and former East German Communists, tolerates a minority government of  the SPD/Greens, but  Schroeder emphatically ruled that idea out during the campaign and in his statement on Sunday he said he was willing to talk to all parties, except the Linkspartei which is after the SPD the second popular in the ex-East Germany, while the CSU-the party of reunification under former chancellor Kohl is only the third strongest.

Still, if the options for Schroeder all seemed fraught with potential difficulty, those for Merkel seemed equally tough. Only a few weeks ago, as the election campaign accelerated, polls showed Merkel almost a sure winner, in combination with the Free Democrats, so much so that she was almost treated in the German press as if she had already become Germany's first woman chancellor.

Merkel seemed to have every advantage given Germany's actual situation - especially an unemployment rate of more than 11 percent that Schroeder, despite many promises, had conspicuously failed to reduce. This failure was the reason for several embarrassing losses in state elections during the fall for the Social Democrats. Indeed it was one such loss, in North Rhine Westphalia in the spring that led Schroeder to call for early elections, a gesture that at the time was widely interpreted as a way for Schroeder to engineer an early departure from German politics.

German constitutional law does not even have a paragraph on a mandate for Government-building. This is also where the German President, Horst Koehler, steps in. In the first round of voting, Koehler must name a chancellor candidate -- and not necessarily from the strongest group in parliament. Theoretically, he could trust the SPD, FDP and the Greens to form a stable governmental coalition and could recommend Schroeder as chancellor even though he's the candidate of the second-largest group in parliament.

Koehler’s nominee for chancellor must secure an absolute majority in the parliament -- 307 votes. Koehler can, however, nominate a chancellor only for the first round of voting.

If the first candidate does not get a majority, a second round of voting can take place within two weeks, possibly with another candidate standing for chancellor. To be elected, the candidate in this round must also win 307 votes.

If the first two rounds of voting don't provide a chancellor, then a third round of voting takes place immediately after the second and the candidate with the most votes wins. If he or she has an absolute majority, Koehler will automatically name him or her chancellor within seven days.

If he or she does not have 307 votes or more, Koehler must make a decision: Either he appoints the chancellor at the head of a minority government, also within seven days, or he dissolves parliament and calls new elections -- a situation that is without precedent in German post-war history.

The crisis created by the election does not seem to be immediately solved and it can push Germany into a long political impasse with no immediate exit.

Though Schroeder proved destructive of the welfare state and is responsible for the economic stagnation and high rate of unemployment in Germany, but for the majority of voters, he is still more acceptable to safeguard the traits of social welfare and therefore to form his government, of course preferably or hopefully not with more-than-self neo-liberal corporation of right parties under his leadership.

As a legacy of the cold war, the German media repeats the arguments of neo-liberalism as the only facts. For them the Linksparty with 54 seats is a new force which is challenging the smug neo-liberalism in the heart of Europe. Although, apparently, the main task of any party is how it faces the capitalist disease of unemployment, which is of course a hard choice, but in fact no party counts for reducing the roots of unemployment in Germany.

The SPD/Greens or the CDU/FDP can not build up a stable government, if the big parties, SPD/CDU, share the pie between them, this will not be a way out of deadlock, but merely a way of waiting for a new coming election.

A curious majority of left voters do not understand why the Linksparty has been brutally ruled out of negotiations by the SPD, what has the effect that the German election outcome remains open.

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