22/09/2002 - D-7
Just one week before the elections the suspense reigning over Germany has reached a peak with the pollsters declaring the two main parties equal in terms of intention to vote. According to Forschungsgruppe Wahlen, the Social Democrat Party and the Christian Democrat Union (CDU/CSU) would win 38% of the vote each. The survey that was published on 10th September by Infratest-Dimap puts the SPD in the lead for the very first time with 39% of the vote (up by 2%), just ahead of the CDU-CSU with 38% (down by 1.5%). This survey was the first to be carried out after the second TV debate between Gerhard Schröder and Edmund Stoiber. Until a few days ago Allenbasch, considered the most reliable of all the pollsters (during the last elections in 1998, it came to within 0.5% of the final result) was the only pollster who was forecasting a clear lead for the CDU/CSU. In its last survey for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on 11th September it said that the CDU-CSU and the SPD were equal with 37% of the intention to vote, (Social democrats had moved ahead by 2.9% and the Christian Democrats had fall behind by 2.1%). According to these three enquiries the FDP Liberals would win between 8.5 and 9.5% of the vote, the Ecologists between 7 and 8.5%, the PDS Communists would not reach the 5% mark. In addition to this it is interesting to point out that 15 to 20% of those interviewed said they still had not decided on what their choice would be on 22nd September.
The way is now open to create the future government coalition
Although the surveys hesitate in putting a name to the new Chancellor, there is also much speculation about the make-up of the future government coalition. Whether it is the SPD or the CDU-CSU who wins the elections on the 22nd September none of these groups will rule alone. The Social Democrats and the Christian Democrats will therefore have to join forces with either one (or several) other parties to achieve an absolute majority in the Bundestag. Four governments are possible.
First hypothesis: a repeat of the SPD-Greens coalition in power at present. However with the Social Democrats at 37-39% and the Greens at 7-8% in the polls, ie a total of 44-47% for both groups, the two parties might not be able to achieve the necessary majority in terms of seats to retain power, since Chancellor Gerhard Schröder has ruled out forming a minority government with the support of the PDS.
Second hypothesis: a CDU-CSU – Liberal FDP alliance FDP. But even this is not certain since the FDP does not seem to have made the breakthrough it had hoped for and would only achieve 8% to 9% of the intention to vote.
Apart from these two possibilities that might be qualified as "normal", two other solutions can be foreseen. Firstly an SPD-CDU/CSU coalition, that already governed Germany between 1966-69 under the leadership of the Christian Democrat Chancellor Kurt-Georg Kiesinger (the Social-Democrat Willy Brandt was then Vice-Chancellor). To date Gerhard Schröder and Edmund Stoiber have both rejected this hypothesis. The final hypothesis suggested by "critics" would be an SPD-Greens-FDP alliance. However the Liberal leader Guido Westerwelle, who is also a candidate for the Chancellorship (a first in the history of the Federal Republic of Germany) has totally ruled out governing with the Ecologists.
Another first in German history: to date the Liberal Party has refused to say which of the two major parties it supports, postponing its decision about a possible participation, in a future government coalition until after the announcement of the final results. Given the slight gap between the CDU/CSU and SPD, the "small" parties might very well want to stand as referees over this general election. Although the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS – former communists) does not appear to be in a position to win 5% of the votes cast, necessary to enter the Bundestag, it can however, according to electoral law, enter Parliament if it wins three clear seats in the constituencies. Two of these seem already certain but the third is still in the balance. If the PDS does not get into the Bundestag all of the votes cast for it will be redistributed between the different groups in Parliament, with the election winner receiving the greater part.
The TV Debate
For the very first time in Germany the elections have given rise to two TV debates. What influence have they had on the voters? Although the first TV debate on 25th August ended in a draw, the second on 8th September, broadcast on the State channels ARD and ZDF, was, according to analysts and pollsters, to Gerhard Schröder's advantage.
15.6 million viewers followed the debate, a higher figure than the one seen during the first duel (15.1 million).
Employment was the central theme of discussion. Edmund Stoiber pointed out the poor results achieved by the Government in terms of unemployment and gave an overview of the steps his party would roll out as soon as it came to power in order to fight this burden that has become the German population's main worry.
To counter this the Chancellor blamed his failure on the international economy. Just a few days from the first anniversary of 11th September the international political situation was necessarily the second theme of debate. At the risk of incurring the wrath of the USA, Germany's privileged partner, creating confusion within the EU and also distinguishing itself from France, the Chancellor confirmed his total opposition to any armed intervention by his country in Iraq, "with or without UN approval" he declared. All the opinion polls bear witness to the popularity of this attitude amongst the German voters who are still haunted by the dual trauma of two World Wars and the fission of their country during the Cold War. As usual the Chancellor relied very much on the policies of Joschka Fischer, the man reputed to be the most popular politician in Germany, to "pump", without scruple, the pacifist themes revealed in the opinion polls. For his part Edmund Stoiber said he was against any unilateral action by the USA and confirmed the need for a "common position on the part of the EU". He was the only one to mention Europe during the debate. The Christian Democrat leader also accused his rival of being "Saddam Hussein's top candidate in his defence against the Europeans and Americans."
The two candidates also debated different political subjects of a domestic nature such as security, education, family and pensions.
The SPD, that has been behind in all the polls since the start of the year, has made a come back over the past few weeks and is now placed equal to the CDU/CSU. So it is almost impossible to forecast the election result on 22nd September. The Chancellor has used his ability to come across well in the media to catch up with his rival. But will this be enough to surge ahead of him? Nothing is more uncertain. Is it enough to oppose the conflict in Iraq, a popular theme amongst the Germans, to make them forget the Government's poor economic performance? The Germans are still very worried about the social effects of the slowing of growth and the doubts about the "German model".
"The cleft is no longer between left and right but between politics that are effective and those that aren't." said Schröder in 1998. The argument won the day. Will it be the same after four years of Social Democrat rule? The Germans will reveal this to us on 22nd September.