Victory of sorts

Published : Oct 23, 2009 00:00 IST

ANGELA MERKEL, CHANCELLOR and leader of the CDU, with FDP leader Guido Westerwelle at the Chancellery in Berlin on September 28. The FDP has won enough seats to help the CDU form a stable government.-WOLFGANG RATTAY/AFP

ANGELA MERKEL, CHANCELLOR and leader of the CDU, with FDP leader Guido Westerwelle at the Chancellery in Berlin on September 28. The FDP has won enough seats to help the CDU form a stable government.-WOLFGANG RATTAY/AFP

THE federal elections held in Germany on September 27 have resulted in a renewed mandate for Chancellor Angela Merkel. But the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), her partner in the grand coalition that ruled the country for the last four years, suffered its worst ever defeat. The party got only 23 per cent of the vote. In 2005, it got more than 35 per cent. Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the SPDs candidate for Chancellor, described the outcome as a bitter defeat.

Not that Angela Merkels Christian Democratic Union (Germany), or the CDU, has much to cheer about in the long run. It too polled fewer votes than in the last elections. In fact, this was its second worst performance after the Second World War. Much of the exuberance being exuded by Angela Merkel after the elections is mainly because she does not have to cohabit with the SPD anymore. Her preferred coalition partner, the pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP), won 14 per cent of the votes and enough seats to help her form a stable government. This is the highest it has got so far.

The FDP had promised to cut the top income tax rate by 10 per cent. The FDP, according to pollsters, attracted a lot of support from disenchanted CDU and SPD members. The SPD was the worst affected. Voter turnout was at a post-War low of 70.3 per cent. In the last general elections, the turnout was 77.7 per cent. An estimated two million SPD supporters preferred to stay at home rather than cast their ballot for the party.

The SPDs working class and trade union base shifted support to Die Linke (The Left), the only major Left party to contest the elections. It was the only party to raise serious issues that were of concern to the average voter, such as the soaring unemployment rate, and to demand the immediate withdrawal of German troops from Afghanistan. Eighty per cent of Germans are now opposed to the war in Afghanistan. Die Linke got 11.9 per cent of the vote its best performance so far. The Green Party, which also got votes from traditional SPD supporters, polled 10.4 per cent of the vote. This is the first time it has reached double digits in a federal election.

Though these elections have been described as the most lacklustre held so far, with the leaders of the two major parties refusing to debate serious issues, the results may be a pointer to the future. The results have shown that support for the two major parties that have dominated the German political scene since the Second World War, the CDU and the SPD, is eroding. The three smaller parties, the FDP, Die Linke and the Greens, have got around 35 per cent of the vote this time.

The SPD leadership will have to go in for some serious introspection. Die Linke leaders, Oskar Lafontaine and Gregor Gysi, have called on the SPD leadership to go back to its social democratic roots. Lafontaine was a leading SPD politician until he quit in the late 1990s after disagreeing with former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeders right-ward shift. The SPD has so far been refusing to form an alliance with the Left at the federal level. But after its disastrous showing this time, the party will have to reassess its options.

The pro-business government that will be in power for the next four years is unlikely to solve the economic crisis the country is facing. Mainstream politicians have not told the German public about the dire straits their countrys economy is in. German banks are said to be in urgent need of a huge rescue package despite the government in Berlin claiming that their financial architecture is in a much better state than those in other European countries following the Anglo-American model.

The urgent task of the new government will be to get a surging budget deficit under control while tackling the rising unemployment rate.

John Cherian
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