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Germany - General Elections

Total confusion after the general elections in Germany where each of the major parties claims victory

Total confusion after the general elections in Germany where each of the major parties claims victory

19/09/2005 - Results

Confusion reigned in Germany on Sunday evening on the announcement of the general election results that revealed the electorate's indecision in the face of the SPD and CDU's plans. The political system in Germany – comprising two ‘big' parties (the Social Democrat Party - SPD and the Christian Democrat Union - CDU-CSU) and two ‘small' parties (the Greens and the Liberal Democrat Party FDP) has suffered serious upheaval.

The two main parties have achieved what might be considered their lowest scores in history: 35.2% for the CDU i.e. 225 seats in the Bundestag and 34.3% for the SPD i.e. 222 seats. For the first time since 1949 they have fallen below the 70% voting mark.

Conversely the small parties have maintained an even keel – like the Greens who recorded only a slightly decline in comparison with the last general elections on 22nd September 2002, 8.1% (- 0.4 points) and 51 seats – or have risen slightly such as the Liberal Democrat Party for example that achieved its best result ever, 9.8%, i.e. 2.4 points more than three years ago (61 seats).

A party that came recently into the political arena, the Left Party (L) succeeded in making a breakthrough winning 8.7% of the vote (54 seats) coming out slightly ahead of the Greens (by 0.5 points) but without managing however to assert itself as the country's third political force.

The CDU has become Germany's leading political party once more, but it should be disappointed with its result. Credited with nearly 49% of the vote by the polls just three months ago, the CDU-CSU won 35.3% of the vote and achieved the second worst result in its history (after the 35.2% in the general elections in 1998). "The Social Democrat Party and the Greens have been rejected (...) I would like to say to the president of the SDP: ‘the election is over it is now time to form a stable coalition.' And this assignment has clearly been given to us, the CDU," declared Angela Merkel, president of the CDU-CSU on Sunday evening.

Angela Merkel will probably be held personally responsible for what might be seen as a failure. The ‘fracture' she had forecast during the electoral campaign seems to have frightened a great number of German voters. In addition the words spoken by the man she hoped to make her Finance Minister, the former Constitutional Judge and professor of fiscal law at the University of Heidelberg, Paul Kirchhof, who supports the establishment of an average taxation level of 25% for all citizens, were received badly by the electorate and created controversy within the CDU itself. Finally the rightwing forces appeared to disagree during the campaign. Hence the Liberal Democrat Party, allied to the CDU-CSU openly opposed the CDU's proposal to increase VAT by two points. Within the CDU-CSU some ‘barons', regional or local leaders in the Bundesrat, the Upper Chamber of Parliament, did not always make Angela Merkel's task easy criticising her campaign choices or openly doubting the people she had chosen to work with.

The fact that she is a woman also undoubtedly deprived Angela Merkel of some votes that might have fallen to the FDP, which found itself again in its long time role of ‘kingmaker'. By winning 9.8% of the vote the liberal party achieved one of the best scores in its history. Its president Guido Westerwelle can be proud of this result that puts an end to a serious internal crisis that his party had been undergoing since the last general elections in 2002 which ultimately led to the resignation and suicide of its leader, Jürgen Möllemann.

Although it Chancellor Gerhard Schröder might think he has won the wager - that many political analysts believed to be crazy when he convened early general elections on 22nd May to the greatest surprise of the entire press and the political community, after his party's electoral downfall in the regional elections of North Rhine Westphalia, - his red-green government has been rejected. With 34.3% of the vote his party has regressed in comparison with the election in 2002 (- 4,3 points). However the gap that existed with his main adversary the CDU that still dominated in the polls by 20 points in June this year is less than expected (0.9%). "Those who forecast a change in Chancellorship (...) have been rejected in grand style. I feel that I can continue to ensure a stable government in our country under my management for the next four years," declared Gerhard Schröder when the results were announced. The outgoing Chancellor, who was declared definitely beaten in all of the polls during the entire campaign, has turned the situation around. He invested all of his energy into a lightening electoral campaign that was settled more due to the personalities than by their programmes. The Social Democrat Party that has suffered the wear and tear of government and the unpopular reforms that it set in motion withstood better than forecast but is however far from achieving an absolute majority even with the votes of its allies the Greens. "Angela Merkel will not succeed in forming a coalition with the Social Democrat Party if she wants to be Chancellor. Apart from me no one is capable of forming a stable government. I feel that I have received the mandate to guarantee that there will be a stable government under my rule in this country for the next four years," maintained Gerhard Schröder on Sunday evening as he announced that the Social Democrat Party was going to "start discussions with the other parties, except for the Left Party. And I can tell you now that they will be crowned with success," he added.

As in 2002, the Greens, who have been members of the red-green coalition in power for seven years, managed to avoid the sanction vote that the Social Democrat Party was the victim of maintaining the same scores as three years ago. The ecologist party is reaping the fruits of the policy undertaken by its leader Joschka Fischer, Vice Chancellor and Foreign Affairs Minister in Gerhard Schröder's government and in this role the true craftsman of Germany's recent assertion in the international arena.

Finally the Left Party has succeeded in making its electoral breakthrough but without forging ahead of the Liberal Democrat Party (FDP). The rebel party has even deprived the red-green coalition of victory since the addition of all of the Social Democrat, Green and Left Party votes comes to a total of 50.9%. The Party for Democratic Socialism (PDS) won 4% of the vote and the Alternative for Work and Social Justice (WASG), 4.6%. Led by Oskar Lafontaine, former Finance Minister and former president of the Social Democrat Party, a well-known opponent of Gerhard Schröder, and Gregor Gysi, former leader of the Party for Democratic Socialism, former Economy Minister for the State-Town of Berlin and the most popular political personality in the Eastern part of the country, the Left Party achieved its best scores in the Länder in the East (nearly 26%) whilst in the West, only 4.7% of the electorate gave it their vote of confidence.

The PDS that was fighting for its survival has therefore won its wager. As for the Alternative for Work and Social Justice, a movement void of structure and established support has asserted itself as a true political force. "It was worth the risk. There is a strong leftwing in the German Parliament. We are happy that our project won through," said Oskar Lafontaine happily on Sunday evening. The future of both parties who say they want to found a real party together over the next few months will depend much on the government coalition that will be established after these general elections. Although the Social Democrat Party has moved over to the opposition it will in effect have to position itself more to the left than it did when in power; however if there is a grand CDU/SPD coalition the Left Party might continue to fill the vacuum left behind by the left in the political arena.

After these general elections where no clear majority has been revealed the possible coalitions are numerous. As the CDU lead over the SPD diminished during the electoral campaign the issue was raised of both parties forming a ‘grand coalition' led by the party that came out ahead in the election. It would therefore be up to the CDU/CSU to form a coalition government and Angela Merkel to become Chancellor. The German Chancellor has always come from the party having won the greatest number of seats in the Bundestag.

Approved by the electorate the ‘grand coalition' is however deemed disastrous by the business community which fears a paralysis of the State just as the country needs more than ever before a true change and far reaching reforms.

Germany has already been governed by a ‘grand coalition' under Kurt Georg Kiesinger between 1966 and 1969. At the time this enabled a re-stabilisation of the economy but it failed to launch the necessary reforms. "The most likely scenario of a grand coalition would exclude the two main winners of the election, the Left Party and the Liberal Democrat Party (...) this does not augur well for Germany's structural problems," stresses Thomas Straubhaar, director of the research institute HWWA.

There is another possible coalition, the so-called ‘tricoloured fire,' i.e. ‘red-yellow-green' in which the Liberal Democrat Party (yellow) would decide to change sides and join the outgoing ‘red-green' coalition (SPD-Greens). FDP leader Guido Westerwelle, is against this possibility for the time being since it was rejected unanimously during the last liberal party congress. "You can dream on," declared Guido Westerwelle on Sunday evening targeting Gerhard Schröder. Some are even talking of the possibility of the Greens joining forces with the liberals to form a coalition with the CDU-CSU and the FDP.

Political leaders might wait for the Dresden election results to decide and come to an agreement. On 8th September the death of Kerstin Lorenz, a National Democrat Party candidate (NPD) in the election by universal suffrage of the MP for the constituency 160 in Dresden effectively forced the electoral authorities to postpone the general election in this town the capital of the Land, Saxony until 2nd October – this constituency comprises 220,000 voters. The Dresden results should not offer the majority to the CDU and the FDP nor enable a "red-green" coalition to continue in power but it might however help the two main parties to settle how many seats they have in the Bundestag. Indeed ordinarily three seats have to be decided upon.

If political leaders can but take on board the electorate's indecision they must also rise above this rapidly and form a majority that is able to meet the population's expectations – who first and foremost are hoping for a boost to economic growth and a reduction in unemployment. They have a month in which to make their decision.

German General Election Results 18th September 2005

Participation rate: 77.7 %

Source Embassy of Germany in Paris
Publishing Director: Pascale JOANNIN
The authors
Corinne Deloy
Author of the European Elections Monitor (EEM) for the Robert Schuman Foundation and project manager at the Institute for Political Studies (Sciences Po).
Fondation Robert Schuman
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