Difficult to form a coalition
resurgent right to make a weakened Merkel’s task more difficult.
Major media the world over declared that the 2017 elections would be boring because things are basically OK in Germany. Everything was supposed to stay the same because Chancellor Angela Merkel would hold onto office. It was clear on Sunday after 6 PM they couldn't have been more wrong. Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) did get the largest vote, but with 32 per cent it was down nine points from what it got four years ago — not much of a vote of confidence in the establishment or agreement that "everything is fine." "We would have liked to get more than that," a disappointed Merkel told the crowd at what was supposed to be a victory party in Berlin on Sunday night.
Then there was the other part of the establishment, the Social Democrats (SPD), Merkel's junior partner in a not so "Grand Coalition," that also didn't have such a good night. The SPD collapsed entirely, gaining only 20 per cent of the vote. It was the worst showing for the Social Democrats since World War II. Immediately after the 6:01 p.m. announcement of initial projections, SPD leader Martin Schulz announced he has had it with "Grand Coalitions" and that the party would take on the role of opposition leader in the Bundestag. The SPD's frequent support for CDU austerity measures, cuts in social services and pensions and its backing for German military intervention in Afghanistan and elsewhere hurt the party badly.
The really bad news, however, is that, with 13 per cent of the vote, under the banner of the Alternative for Germany (AfD), the Nazis will send 79 people into the German Bundestag for the first time since Hitler became German Chancellor in 1933. It's a serious problem because one of the AfD's top leaders demanded that the country stop apologising for Nazi war crimes.
The silver lining to that awful cloud, however, is that the AfD will not achieve its goal of becoming the leader of the opposition in the Bundestag because the "Grand Coalition" of CDU and SPD has collapsed, putting the SPD into opposition. With the largest vote among the opposing parties, the SPD becomes the official opposition.
This was good news indeed for thousands at the Left Party's election night gathering here last night. They had feared not just the AfD entrance into the Bundestag, but also that the Nazis would become the main opposition. Some we talked to at Die Linke's gathering were even holding out hope now that the SPD may actually grow some backbone — at least on some issues.
Although unhappy about the entrance of the AfD into the Bundestag, Die Linke can take some measure of satisfaction that their projected vote total of 9.1 per cent, if it holds up, is an improvement over the 8 per cent they got four years ago. The Greens projected total of 8.9 per cent was just a hair below Die Linke's.
The right-wing Free Democratic Party (FDP), which failed to get even the five per cent four years ago for a seat in the Bundestag, made a comeback to 10 per cent in the projections. On a preliminary basis, the way this breaks down for seats in the Bundestag is as follows: CDU – 218; SPD – 138; AfD – 87; FDP – 70; Die Linke – 66; and Greens – 59. It is important to note that these are initial projections and the actual breakdowns can change when the official results are announced.
With the "Grand Coalition" marriage of the CDU and the SPD ending Merkel will have to reach out to the FDP and the Greens to form a ruling coalition. She has been in coalition with the FDP before and had no trouble ditching the SPD in the past when the FDP had seats in the Bundestag. And this time, finally, with the Schulz announcement, the SPD isn't waiting around for Merkel to dump them again. The Greens immediately announced that they would enter a coalition with Merkel. The coming new coalition has been dubbed the "Jamaica Coalition" because the colors of the parties involved match the colors of the Jamaican flag. Merkel has ruled out any coalition with either the AfD or Die Linke.
Although they wished their party had done better than a one-point improvement, Die Linke activists gathered in the festival hall in Kreuzberg on Sunday night seemed far from discouraged. "I don't give up," said Thomas Mueller, 37. Mueller, who was carrying his three-year-old son piggyback, said, "Die Linke is the only real left party in Germany, the only real alternative. The SPD hasn't been for many years and the Greens, well they seem to be out to hook up with whomever they can."
Mueller was asked why he appeared so fearful of the AfD. "Because they are Nazis and they have to be stopped. Only Die Linke really exposes them and takes them to task for what they are – Nazis. They are not just another right-wing party," he said. Mueller said he had actually been afraid the AfD vote could have been higher. "I don't know for sure," he said, "but in Germany, I think as much as 15 or 20 per cent of the population is nationalistic and racist, maybe the same as you have with many of the Trump supporters in America."
Mueller was confident that Die Linke will be stronger and that AfD will be weaker four years from now. "AfD is so corrupt and already they are splitting in two if not three parts. I wouldn't be surprised if you get several AfD's fighting each other in the Bundestag." He was referring to internal power struggles that have boiled over in that party recently with some of the more overt Nazis battling right-wing businessmen who want to limit identification with Hitler.
The highlight of the evening at Die Linke's party was a speech given by Sahra Wagenknecht, leader of the party's "fraction" in the Bundestag. "Merkel can take no comfort in seeing her vote grow smaller, we take no comfort in seeing the SPD collapse because it became part of the forces lined up against the workers, but we take pride that we have fought and continue to fight for social security and for peace. These are the prerequisites for a good life in Germany but more important these are necessary for the survival of the whole world." She told the cheering crowds that she has "faith in the German people that when they are given the chance they will hear the right message, not the message coming from AfD.
The election results have no effect on state governments where Die Linke has made substantial gains. In Berlin and Thuringia, for example, the Red-Red-Green coalitions remain in place and will do so for four years. In Berlin, the largest of the German districts, the mayor is a Social Democrat and the vice mayor is a member of Die Linke. The ruling Senate in the city contains three members each form the SPD, Die Linke, and the Greens. The CDU and all the parties to its right, including the AfD, have no role whatsoever in the Berlin city government. IPA
(The writer is Editor-in-Chief of People's World based in the USA. Views expressed are strictly personal.)