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Sep 25, 2017

Election explainer: what happened in the German election?

Angela Merkel has retained the Chancellorship -- just -- and faces a series of challenges in the months ahead.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has held on to win a fourth term as leader of her country. But the conservative Christian Democratic Union of Germany and Christian Social Union bloc that she leads suffered many blows — a humbling slump in her vote and a surge in support for the far right — that will temper any celebrations. Merkel is considered Europe’s most powerful political and a key bulwark against the influence of Vladimir Putin; what does this election mean for her, Germany, and Europe?

How did it break down?

In concert with many elections around the world in the previous couple of years: mainstream parties saw their vote shares plummet, with fringe populist parties mopping up the difference. In this case the CDU/CSU bloc secured 238 seat with 32.9% of the vote — down nearly 10% from 2013, and their worst result since 1949. It was even worse for their main rival, the Social Democrats who slumped to just over 20% — their worst performance since 1933. And, to use one of the more ominous phrases available to humans, speaking of things that haven’t happened in Germany since the 1930s…

Are…are Nazis a thing in Germany again?

With 13%, the third most voted for party was Alternative for Germany, a right-wing populist party. They had slowly been spreading across the German state parliaments (by May this year they had representatives in 13 out of 16 of them). Formed in 2012 as a centre-right eurosceptic party led by economist Bernd Lucke. The party competed in various state and federal elections, and looked to have fallen to in-fighting across June and July 2015. The turmoil eventually led to Lucke being ousted and replaced by leader of the party’s national-conservative faction Frauke Perry. This precipitated a hard right shift for the AfD — she has argued for tougher immigration policies, greater scrutiny of Islam in Germany and closer ties to Russia. Perhaps most ominous of all, rallies have heard their speakers lament the level of guilt the country publicly expresses regarding the Holocaust. “German history is handled as rotten and made to look ridiculous … Germans are the only people in the world to plant a monument of shame in the heart of its capital…[they] have the mentality of a totally vanquished people”, one of their speakers told a beer hall in Dresden, amidst cries of “Deutchland!”

What’s the risk the AfD poses? 

As the results came in, hundreds of anti-AfD protesters descended on the party’s celebration, shouting “all Berlin hates AfD”and “Nazi Pigs”. Merkel (and the other major parties) have vowed to not collaborate with the far right, meaning she will have to knit together a tottering coalition, most likely involving the Greens and pro-business Free Democrats Party. Charmingly, this has been referred to the “Jamaica Option” — owing to the fact that the colours associated with the parties (green black and yellow) make up that countries flag.  It will be potentially arduous process and could potentially take months. This comes about because of the end of the grand coalition between the two major parties — the Social Democrats are seemingly happy to have a period in opposition. It seems voters are tired of the two major parties having such similar views, and this was part of what pushed them to the fringes.

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19 comments

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19 thoughts on “Election explainer: what happened in the German election?

  1. Robert Smith

    It may be the their supporters punish the junior partner in a coalition gov’t. The Lib Dems in Britain are another example – their representation was almost wiped out in the recent election.

  2. lykurgus

    Rallies in a beer hall… accusations of a “defeated people” mentality, and of global humiliation thereof… a Mutter (that’s what they call her) hailed as a bulwark against der Bolschewik… this is all sounding VERY familiar…
    Für das deutsche Vaterland!

    1. lykurgus

      And straight to the “awaiting moderation” queue because it contains German… there’s a snappy one-liner for this, but I can’t say it in English.

  3. James O'Neill

    “Merkel is considered Europe’s most powerful political and a key bulwark against the influence of Vladimir Putin;”. What does this mean exactly? Merkel is (with Putin) one of the key people trying to repair the Ukraine mess caused by an American staged coup. Merkel also knows that Russia is the main guarantor of Europe’s energy supply. Hence Nord Stream II. Exposure to America’s self-interested sanctions imposed at Europe’s expense has also awakened Germany to the benefits of looking east. It is already linked to China’s BRI with Duisburg a key node.
    Your focus on AfD has also led you to ignore the vote for the three other parties (Greens, FDP and Die Linke) all of whom have more in common with the SDP than they do with either the CDP or AfD. The combined vote of those other three plus the SDP is enough to form a coalition. Merkel is by no means assured of having her party retain government.

    1. AlexG

      No James, Merkel isn’t “working with” Putin trying to repair the Ukraine mess. Merkel is a steadfast opponent of Putin. She knows enough Russian and knew enough KGB operatives to understand Putin’s game for what it is. The Ukraine mess is the result of the invasion and annexation of Crimea by Russia and its proxy war in eastern Ukraine, a war which has killed around 10,000 people. Your suggestion that the FDP and Die Linke could work together in a coalition underscores your ignorance of German politics. The options are Jamaica (likely), the SPD changing its mind (unlikely), minority CDU/CSU government (very unlikely) or new elections.

      1. AR

        That you could write “ invasion and annexation of Crimea ” shows the worth of your views.

        1. Will

          But still. You’d be deluded to think Putin’s intentions are any more honorable than the CIA’s. There’s no contradiction in saying Crimea chose to revert to Russian rule, and Russia is actively trying to undermine German hegemony in Europe. James isn’t wrong about American imperialism. But he utterly deluded about Russian (and related parties’) own imperial ambitions.

  4. Woopwoop

    “….country’s…” Don’t journalists need to be literate any more?

    1. AR

      W/W – as we’ve wearily noted passim, not an edition passes without several grammatical/malapropisms or typo howlers.
      If only the effort/money spent publishing the H/H’s tawdry self advertisements were allocated to a subeditor.
      Sigh… crickets..

      1. Woopwoop

        What’s the “H/H”?

        1. AR

          W/W – the Human Hunchline.

          1. Will

            After that I need R/R.

  5. peter

    “What does this mean for her, Germany and Europe?” Regrettably the writer then neglected to answer the question he himself posed. Waste of space Crikey.

    1. Will

      That’s a bit harsh, Peter. Charlie mentioned a weakened governing coalition, a new hard right nationalism, and a strengthened euroscepticism, after all. The more worrisome question is where now for social democrats?

    2. pjp

      Here’s an attempt to answer the questions left unanswered.
      1. Merkel does have a problem, but to a large extent it is of her own making. Domestically, she has never taken a strong and active role but sits back and only acts when she has no other choice. She would love to keep the Grand Coalition but the chances are very slim as SPD recognise this will only see support for them drop even further. Just as the ALP here, they are seen as being too centrist and offering no alternative to more of the same passive politics. The Liberals are the natural Coalition partner of the Conservative Union, but only if they’ve learnt from their mistakes of the last 15 years or more. Can the Greens work with the Conservatives and the Liberals? Possibly. Expect the Bavarian arm of the Conservative Union to make the negotiations very difficult – when Bavarian pride is hurt they revert to a Bavarian Nationalism which at times has more in common with the AfD than with a democratic party. The negotiations to create a new coalition will take months – probably until Christmas. But nothing unusual about that. And then the Bavarian conservatives will spend the next four years undermining the coalition – as they always do. So, yes, Merkel has a problem.
      2. For Germany – over the years studies have shown that there has always been a latent xenophobia and antisemitic element in the population estimated at about 15%. So the AfD has mobilised this segment. Unfortunately this is across or socioeconomic groups. But can they form a coherent and united parliamentary block? Probably not as they make One Nation look rational and intelligent. Expect the AfD to be its own worse enemy.
      3. For Europe: France and Germany are planning to negotiate a reorganisation of EU economic policy and management. This will now have to wait until a stable coalition has formed. I wonder how much lobbying the EU is now doing to convince the SPD to change its mind and remain in the Grand Coalition.
      Sorry for being just a know-it-all smart arse – but most Australians don’t really have anything but a superficial understanding of one of the most complex and fascinating European countries.

  6. Robert Smith

    AfD has had some internal upheavals in the past & is still to show the leadership of Gauland & Weidel can hold the party together in the longer run.

  7. AR

    We long suffering subscribers are used to cut’n’paste precis but FFS, this isn’t even a listicle.
    The threat of Putin? You mean the only other adult on the international scene, picking up the pieces strewn about by the increasingly deranged Hegemon?
    Merkel speaks fluent Russian & Putin fluent German – they both speak English better than the Drumpfster, as well as being able to think coherently.

  8. pjp

    Of course an article about modern German politics (or anything to do with Germany) would not be complete without a reference to the Nazi past. Modern Germany has a stable and intact parliamentary democracy which is in a much healthier state than Australia’s democracy.
    The AfD started dismantling itself almost straight away; Frauke Petry broke away from the party just hours after the results were known and will probably take a significant part of the party with her. But I guess the journalist was having too much fun playing at News Corp tabloid and calling up the old Nazi ghosts to have taken much notice of this.
    A coalition of the conservatives, the Greens and the Liberals is workable – the Liberals were once the king makers of German politics. If anything, the greater danger for stability within such a coalition comes from the CSU in Bavaria – who, of course, are the junior party within the conservative union. They have come out of this an even bigger loser than Merkel and the Bavarian pride is hurt.
    And where does the support for AfD come from: well, they managed to mobilise about one million non-voters. But two-thirds of those who voted AfD did so as an act of protest and actually disagree with most of the party’s policies.
    But of course why look at the complexities of it all, when the Nazi ghosts are waiting around to be awakened.

    1. AR

      The Greens were happily ensconced in SPD government in 1998-2005, the leader, Fischer, playing with the big boys as Vice Chancellor & Defense Minister.
      This is what the Black W(r)iggler in Canberra has wet dreams about but forgets that it destroyed the Grunen as a force for hope amongst the young.

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