German Election Debrief -Merkel, Jamaica, and cold kebabs

By Charlotte Gehrke

As Germany voted for the members of their 19th Bundestag on Sunday 24th September, one could find the good, the bad and the ‘lesser evil’ among the results.

Overall voter turnout was high at 76.2%, almost 5% higher than the 2013 elections. The results were within the spectrum of expectation, with the exception of every major political party losing votes to the relatively new right-wing party, Alternative für Deutschland (AfD).

In first place, The Union, Germany’s largest political party made up of the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian cousin the Christian Social Union (CSU), won 33%. The Social Democratic Party (SPD) made second place with 20.5%, their worst result since 1949. Third place went to the AfD at 12.6% and fourth to the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) with 10.7% of the votes. The Left (Die Linke) received 9.2% on fifth place and Alliance 90/The Greens (Bündnis 90/Die Grünen) placed last with 8.9%. The remaining five percent of votes were spread out amongst various small parties.

The votes mentioned above translate into the number of delegates that the six biggest parties will send to represent their electorate in the Bundestag, which seats a total of 709 delegates. These delegates will then in turn elect the Chancellor.

The latter position will once again be taken by Dr. Angela Merkel (CDU). This will be Merkel’s fourth term as Chancellor. The 63-year-old has held the position for 12 years following in the footsteps of Helmut Kohl (14) and Konrad Adenauer (16). Many Germans value her reliability and consistency, with Merkel describing herself as realistic.

In previous years, the two biggest parties, SPD and CDU/CSU, have formed a grand coalition (GroKo). However, the SPD have explicitly stated that it does not want to do so again, instead favouring returning to its identity of being the party of opposition.

This has left the Union with only one viable option to get the majority of at least 355 seats in the Bundestag: a Jamaica coalition. Named after the colours of the Jamaican flag, the coalition consists of the CDU/CSU, Alliance 90/The Greens and the FDP.

This coalition’s biggest obstacle may lie in the negotiations to form it, which started last Wednesday. The greatest difficulty here lies in the unification of the Greens and FDP, two parties critically divided on almost every major issue in contemporary German politics, such as immigration.

At this point, avid mathematicians might have noticed that forming a coalition including the AfD would also help the Union to gain a majority. However, this was not regarded as an option, so much so that none of the major German newspapers have even mentioned the possibility of it. Perhaps accountable is the hatred and disrespect that many German citizens and politicians harbour for the party that employs racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic and sexist rhetoric. Most Germans are especially repulsed by their use of national-socialist language and rhetoric, considering the country’s past.

For now, the AfD appears to be caught up in inner-party fighting with party head Frauke Petry resigning days after the election. Yet, the question of how the new right-wing party has been able to receive so many votes in the first place remains. Political analysts cite high numbers of unemployment paired with low education levels and few to no foreigners living in the AfD’s heartland of East Germany.

The results of the election can be viewed on two levels: nationally and globally. On the international stage with the destabilizing effects of Brexit and Trump becoming more and more evident, European Commission President Jean-Claude Junker wrote to Merkel: “now more than ever Europe needs a strong German government”.

This need for the most powerful woman in world politics might be best illustrated in a Politico article from March 2017, where the headline “Leader of the Free World Meets Donald Trump” accompanied a picture of Merkel as Time Magazine’s Person of the Year 2015.

Within Germany, the stakes are slightly lower as the danger of losing ‘Mutti’ (Mommy – as Angela Merkel is often lovingly, or begrudgingly, referred to) has been postponed for another four years. Merkel won’t run for re-election then, and Germany will be forced to look for a new parent.

For now, the coalition negotiations, which will likely take months, are in progress. The formation of a new federal government may take until December or January, and no major decisions will be made on a national or international level in this time.

Nevertheless, the frustration about the resurgence of right wing politics is big, particularly among young voters. Some conservatives demand Merkel to change in light of the number of Union-votes lost to the AfD; demands she is unlikely to humour.

And so, German voters (the youth at least) return to their usual political behaviour of protesting, drinking beer and eating kebabs – or a combination of all three. As one of them writes in the aftermath of the election, “At this time, I would like to wish all AfD-voters cold kebabs and every CDU-voter warm beer. Lifelong”.