Elections in Germany: Changing parameters?

Published 25.09.2017 21:43
Christian Democratic Union party leader and German Chancellor Angela Merkel reacts to the first exit polls in the German general election, Berlin, Sept. 24.
Christian Democratic Union party leader and German Chancellor Angela Merkel reacts to the first exit polls in the German general election, Berlin, Sept. 24.

Gaining seats in the Bundestag after long years, the far-right AfD is likely to put Berlin in a difficult situation for its future diplomatic relations

It is now seven o'clock in the evening in Istanbul, while I write these lines, a lovely Sunday evening, with quite unpleasant news from Germany. The exit polls from the parliamentary elections have shown a very striking increase in the votes of the xenophobic Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), which is poised to enter parliament as the third important political force in Germany.

Pre-election polls indicated that the two major government parties, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU)/ Christian Social Union (CSU) and the Social Democratic Party (SPD) would lose votes. They did not expect such a crushing defeat. Chancellor Merkel's party had its second worst result since World War II, and Martin Schultz had to concede a crushing defeat, totaling just 21 percent of the votes. All the other political forces gained votes as compared to the last electoral contest.

With the Conservatives losing more than eight points and the AfD gaining about the same percentage of votes, it is easy to say that there has been a transfer of vote from the center-right toward the extreme-right because of the immigration issue. But probably such a change in the political spectrum of Germany deserves a more profound analysis.

First, this is probably the first time that seven different political movements will be represented in the Bundestag. The two dominant parties in the Federal Republic, the CDU/CSU and the SPD, total just above 50 percent of the votes. The German Left Party is consolidating its position, at nearly 9 percent, while the Greens fared a little better, but also keep a strong 9 percent. The surprise comes from the Center Liberal Party (FDP), which is having disparate results from one election to the other: Two terms ago, the party had its historic victory with 14 percent of the votes under the leadership of the late Guido Westerwelle. This resulted in a coalition term with Chancellor Merkel, at the end of which the party fell below a historic low, less than 5 percent, which made them unrepresented in parliament. This time the FDP, under the leadership of Christian Lindner, doubled its previous performance and secured a solid 11 percent of the votes.

The SPD was credited with 30 percent of the votes only six months ago under the impetus of Martin Schultz, recently promoted leader of the party. Obviously, the government partnership did not do any good for the SPD, neither the performance of its new leader, Schultz. The party administration decided that they should remain in the opposition, shutting the door to any continuation of a "grand coalition."

Chancellor Merkel, despite a very sour performance, will remain chancellor because as she declared just after the first results, "No government can be formed against us [CDU/CSU]." This is true, but she will need all her proficiency to bring together a working coalition. She has already made clear her desire to have a tripartite coalition, called "Jamaican," like in the Jamaica's flag, because of the colors representing the three possible partners, CDU/CSU (black), FDP (yellow) and Die Grünen (green, of course).

The three political forces do have some features in common; the most visible being "Europe." The Greens and the Liberals are definitely and overtly pro-European parties. The CDU/CSU never thought about getting away from Europe. The common denominator probably stops there because there is not much resemblance between the environment-driven Greens and business-minded Liberals. The Greens declared to the press that his party had three conditions to be in the government: First, a "decarbonizing" policy to combat global warming, second "Europeanness" and third "more distributive justice." If such conditions are met, the Greens will only be too happy to participate in a coalition government.

At the first sight, Germany looks as it could have problems forming a coalition. However, the responsible attitude of the political movements will probably quite easily overcome this situation. This brings us back to an essential issue: Coalitions are not bad as long as political parties have responsible attitudes and remain incorrupt.

Another dimension of these elections is the dichotomy between East and West Germany. The jingoistic AfD received twice the number of votes in the former East Germany than in the West. This is not good news, showing that there is still resentment in the Eastern Länder regarding reunification.

The German Democratic Republic (DDR) had a short but interesting existence, so far as it remained the window of the Soviet type socialist system. All the time the Soviet propaganda was used the achievements of the DDR in economy, in technology and especially in sports. Being the champions of the socialist system gave East Germans a sense of self-confidence, which was badly destroyed with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the deep changes that occurred afterward.

In spite of the gigantic efforts spent by the Federal Republic under Helmut Kohl, and in spite of the enormous injection of capital and investments in the East, there still is a divide between the East and the West regarding living conditions, unemployment and industrialization. Once glorious, the East German industry has become gradually nonexistent because of delocalization or branches of the industry becoming obsolete. As a result, two peripheral political forces, the AfD for the first time and Die Linke (consisting of former ruling communist party remnants in DDR), together account for 38 percent of the votes in the Eastern Länder. This divide will probably not create a dichotomy like in Italy with the Mezzogiorno or in Turkey with eastern and southeastern Anatolia, but it does not bode well for the future of a very wealthy country like Germany.

The possible participation of the Greens in the German government may place Cem Özdemir in an important position in the cabinet, which probably will not be to the taste of the Turkish government. This brings an interesting question: "Did the votes of German Turks play a role in the very bad result of the SPD?" We do not have any data concerning the votes of Germans of Turkish origin, but this issue is likely to envenom future relations between the German political elite and Turkish governmental spheres.

All the political forces (except the AfD obviously) declared their will and determination to fight against the rising extreme-right. The extreme-right has declared its intention to form a parliamentary investigation committee to examine the lawfulness of Chancellor Merkel's decision pertaining to her immigration policy. It is unlikely that they will get enough votes to start such an investigation in the Bundestag, however, they have shown the flag; their priority will be to target Chancellor Merkel and her generous policy with regard to immigration.It is high time to try to mend relations with Germany now that Germany has a real domestic problem with the AfD. In addition, it would be a good idea to keep a watchful eye on the AfD, whose "halt to immigration" policy could quickly turn into "Türken Raus" propaganda. This latter issue gives Turkish political forces a heavier, increased responsibility when talking about German domestic policies.

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