Parties and commentators have now had two days to digest Germany’s remarkable election result (detailed figures here),
but the shape of the country’s next government is no clearer. Instead,
the party leaders are engaging in a war of nerves that could well end
with a fresh election.

The Christian Democrats appear to be still in shock, and not
surprisingly: to blow a 20% lead in just a couple of months would be a
demoralising experience for anyone. Gerhard Schroeder, on the other
hand, is buoyed from his remarkable comeback; as The New York Times
put it, “On an election night that produced no decisive winner,
Chancellor Gerhard Schröder provided an uncanny facsimile of one.”

The parties are still talking to one another, but all of the possible coalition outcomes (neatly explained by The Guardian)
seem to have been ruled out: the Liberals say they won’t work with the
Social Democrats, the Greens say they won’t work with the Christian
Democrats, Schroeder and Merkel say they won’t work with each other,
and nobody wants to deal with the Left party. It will come down to who
blinks first.

If no-one blinks, Schroeder could remain as head of a minority
government and dare the others to co-operate in parliament to vote him
out – gambling that if they do, they will be blamed by the voters for
forcing another election.

As Tim Colebatch points out in this morning’s Age,
“the outcome appears to be deadlock, but the voting was clear: 51 per
cent of Germans voted for the parties of the left, 45 per cent for the
right. It is only the disunity of the German left that has created the

But the lesson of this is obscure. Was it a vote against economic
reform? Or a belief that the centre-left could better be trusted to
implement it fairly? Or was Iraq again the overriding issue – has
George Bush poisoned the well of reform?

Peter Fray

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