Election Results Confront Germans With Many Firsts

Written By: Luisa Haa

Photograph: Rachel Shnapp

 

I am not the only German who was upset by the results of this year’s election, but no one was taken by surprise.

As the polls predicted, Germany’s Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) will enter the Bundestag as the first right-wing party to hold seats there since its establishment in 1949. Simultaneously, the two biggest parties, the Social Democrats (SPD, 20.5%) and the Christian Democrats (CDU[1], 26.8%), faced the worst results in their histories. While they remain the two biggest factions in parliament, the far-right AfD made a huge impact, coming in third with 12.6% of the vote.

The other winner in this election was the liberal Freie Demokraten (FDP). After having fallen short of the 5% threshold required to enter the Bundestag in 2013, this time around they comfortably re-entered the fold with 10.7% of the vote. Behind them were the left-wing Die Linke and Die Grüne with small gains at 9.2% and 8.7% respectively.

Recently, Germans have watched the effects of rising populism in the US, the UK, Belgium and France with a combination of disbelief and a touch of smugness. We believed that something like that could never happen to us. Now, people are shocked and outraged knowing that 94 likely-xenophobic members of the AfD are currently making arrangements to move to Berlin and take their seats in the Bundestag. All of us – the German leaders, traditional conservatives, and even those who would never vote for the AfD – now have to deal with our own share of extremists and their policy demands.

The implications of a strong right-wing party in German politics and the causes of its rise in popularity will require careful analysis in the future, but the more urgent matter is the forming of a government.

Chancellor Angela Merkel prevailed victorious in a fourth consecutive election, despite her popularity weakening. It is now on her and her party to turn to other parties to form a coalition.

Unlike in the UK, coalitions are a staple of German politics. Since her first term in 2005, Merkel has formed a government with either the SPD or the FDP. However, these partnerships are not an option this time. The leader of the Social Democrats, Martin Schulz, has announced that he would lead his party into opposition and not form a government with the CDU. Whereas, a coalition with the FDP would simply fall short of the number of seats required for a majority.

Since Merkel has ruled out any possibility of the CDU forming a government with either the AfD or Die Linke (the radical right/ left), the only possible coalition at this moment is the so-called ‘Jamaica-Coalition’. This would be made up of CDU/CSU, the FDP and Die Grüne – their party colours creating the black, yellow, green of the Jamaican flag. While this coalition currently governs in one German state, it has never been seen on the federal level.

The three parties will start negotiations in October. If they do not reach an agreement and the SPD keeps its resolution to stay out of the government, Germany may face re-elections (a move that would risk strengthening the AfD’s position). The ‘Jamaica-Coalition’ therefore faces a high amount of pressure so that a newly staffed Bundestag will be able to conduct its first session at the end of October.

 

[1] On federal level, the CDU customarily forms a faction with its Bavarian counterpart, the CSU (6.2%). This is generally referred to as ‘The Union’.

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