It used to be Bill Clinton who was “the comeback kid,” but German
Social Democrat leader Gerhard Schroeder has now usurped the title. For
the second election running he has retrieved what looked like an
impossible position, and although this time he might lose the
chancellery, he has scored a moral victory of stunning proportions. The
opposition Christian Democrats, who a few months ago were topping 45%
in the opinion polls, and were still
above 40% last week, have slumped to around 35%, lower than their 2002
vote and only a whisker ahead of the SPD.

The final outcome is more doubtful than in New Zealand, but the
mathematics are easier because there are only five parties, two major
and three minor (Liberals, Greens and Left). Either major party can
form government if it gets the support of two of the other three, or
else the SPD and CDU could govern together in a grand coalition.

Since two of the minor parties are on the left, and even the Liberals
are not necessarily wedded to the right (they governed in coalition
with the SPD in the 1970s and ’80s), it would seem Schroeder is in the
stronger position. The enmity between Schroeder and the Left party is
strong enough to make co-operation between them problematic, so a
“traffic light” coalition of Social Democrats, Liberals and Greens may
be a better bet. The Liberals, who did better than expected, have so
far ruled out such an option, but they could yet be persuaded.

What the election means for Germany is still unclear, but it’s very bad
news for George W Bush. Schroeder’s biggest selling point was that he had
kept Germany out of the Iraq war, and whatever else happens there’s
little doubt that, like New Zealand, they’ll stay out.