Much to, well, nobody’s surprise, German chancellor Angela Merkel celebrated a very substantial re-election victory this past Sunday. Missed it? No shame – campaigning proceeded without much of a flair for the extravagant, and the first and only debate between Ms. Merkel and her Social Democrat rival Peer Steinbrück began and ended as a mature and predictable discussion that neither candidate really won or lost. In fact, once it was established that Ms. Merkel did in fact know Mr. Steinbrück’s name (she had almost entirely ignored his existence prior to the event), most people lost interest, and the debate shifted quickly to a competition between Angela Merkel’s necklace and her opponent’s tie.
While election results show Ms. Merkel’s Christian Democratic Party (CDU) taking the overwhelming majority of seats in the German Bundestag (311 out of 630), it will nevertheless need to form a coalition in the coming weeks. What form the coalition will take remains unclear, as the party’s former coalition partner, the Federal Democratic Party (FDP), did not receive sufficient votes to win a seat. Lacking a clear message and faced with growing opposition to several of its members, the party witnessed a 9,8% fall in votes, causing them to barely miss the Bundestag cut-off with 4,8%. Parties must achieve at least 5% of the vote to gain representation.
Besides the FDP, the Bundestag remains comprised of the usual crowd, including – along with Merkel’s CDU – Steinbrück’s Social Democratic party (SPD), the Green party, and the Left party. Since the FDP carried no significant weight prior to its exit from the Bundestag, the new seat allocation shifted only slightly – mostly strengthening the position of Merkel’s CDU.
Out of the remaining seats, 192 were allocated to the SPD, and 63 and 64 seats to the Green and Left party, respectively. In theory, the three opposition parties could form a coalition to counter Merkel’s CDU – but as nobody particularly wants to team up with the radical Left party (besides maybe the infamous “Pirate Party” – which, unfortunately, didn’t quite make it to the Bundestag…) so that’s most likely definitely not happening. Who will make up the coalition? The suspense builds.
Additional buzz was caused by Germany’s newest party – the Alternative for Germany party –, which almost made it past the 5% mark. The party, formed just in February this year, grew in notoriety as the anti-Euro party, its primary goal being the German exit from the Euro. Despite a salient effort, 56% of respondents in an Infratest dimap poll nevertheless stated that the party was not to be taken seriously, and only 21% responded they found it good the party spoke out against the Euro.
Back to Frau Merkel and her challenging coalition decision. While the SPD and Green party were strategically campaigning as a team, there is no chance of them retaining the majority (remember that they’re not down to party with the Left party), meaning the CDU will have to pick between the SPD or Green Party. There is a widespread consensus that both match-ups will work, but many agree that a “Grand Coalition” between the CDU and SPD is more favourable. Since Steinbrück announced he would not be a part of the coalition, however, and head of the Green party Mr. Trittin just announced his resignation as well, it is unclear what the future will hold.
Whatever she chooses to do – and let’s face it, it’s basically her decision – Ms. Merkel can do so confidently, knowing that an astounding 71% of Germans are satisfied with her political performance (compared to 44% for Steinbrück). According to an Infratest dimap poll, 56% of respondents alleged that the SPD should have picked a different candidate, and 54% responded that he hurt the SPD in the elections more than helped it.
While this may be the case, external factors may also have come to Ms. Merkel’s aid. Polls show that 58% of respondents think the CDU manages the German economy better (compared to 22% for the SPD) and a further 46% find it more competent in dealing with the Eurocrisis (compared to 20% to the SPD) –two big topics in this election. Regarding family issues, fair wages, and social justice, the SPD beats the CDU on all accounts, although by a much smaller margin.
When asked what they found most important in the elections, 57% responded that fair wages and working conditions mattered, and the same percentage stated that a establishing a good social safety net for the elderly was important. 31% responded that the future of the Euro was important, which may have been low because neither Merkel nor Steinbrück (or really anybody other than the Alternative for Germany) really sees the German exit out of the Euro as an option. It’s pretty clear that the Euro – and Angela Merkel – is here to stay.
Why do people love Angela Merkel so much? Many point to her calculated decision-making and level-headed handling of the euro crisis as big positives. They also see her as a leader who makes decisions for the country – not her party; in recent years, her position has shifted slightly further left on several issues to accommodate opinion shifts in the population. Following Fukushima, for example, Ms. Merkel was quick to declare that Germany would abandon nuclear power, something that the green party had been pushing for some time.
While some have criticised her for changing her mind too much, others reason that you can trust her to represent the interest of the people. And if her cautious evaluation of situations and pragmatic wisdom don’t sway you, there’s always her coy smile and glitzy accessories to win you over.
Fact is: Angela Merkel has won over the Germans – and a lot of others too. But what is becoming more and more obvious – especially with several government positions open now that the FDP is out of the picture – is that, besides Merkel, there isn’t really a strong candidate at all. If the government wants to sustain its current condition and drive further German stability, the CDU needs to make smart coalition choices today and work in cooperation with the other parties tomorrow and thereafter.
– Valerie Weber
Featured photo: he-sk, Creative Common, Flickr