A day’s watching (for Australians) or a night’s sleep (for those in Germany) hasn’t changed the picture in Germany’s election. Centre-right chancellor Angela Merkel doesn’t have the numbers, but she’s won anyway.
Merkel’s Christian Democrats gained a swing of 7.7% to finish with 311 of the 630 seats. Her three opponents to the left – the Social Democrats, the Greens and the Left – have a narrow majority between them, but the consensus is that they’re not going to use it. The Social Democrats will not risk fracturing their support by trying to co-operate with the Left, and that leaves co-operation with Merkel as their only option.
I hold no brief for the Left, the descendants of the old East German Communists, but I still think that’s a bad outcome; I think German democracy in the longer term would be better served by bringing them within the tent.
In Crikey today I make the analogy with Italy, where the centre-left met a similar frustration because a party with the balance of power (in that case the populist 5-Star Movement) couldn’t be accommodated within traditional coalition politics. “In each case the centre-left has been made to look as if it were progressively throwing away its cards, which is never a good look.”
Outside the new parliament, the Liberals have at least retained some shred of respectability by holding onto fifth place, about 30,000 votes ahead of the eurosceptic Alternative for Germany. But both fell short of the minimum 5% required for representation, a figure that now looks more arbitrary than ever. That’s why Merkel needs the SPD for her majority.
Last night (Australian time) I said that “it’s beyond dispute that there’s going to be a swing to the left”. In terms of seats, which was sort of the point, that’s quite true: a centre-right majority of 42 has turned into a minority of eight. But in terms of votes it looks rather different.
The four right and centre-right parties – the CDU/CSU, the FDP, the eurosceptics and the hard right NDP – have actually gained votes in aggregate, up about 3.4%. The three main parties to their left have gone backwards by around 3% between them, yet have picked up 29 seats.
As I’ve said before, I think the German electoral system is one of the best in the world, but it hasn’t covered itself in glory this time.