Germany’s Election Fallout: A Potential Crisis for Democracy?

Stephanie Surface argues that the consequences of the post German election coalition-building could be bad for German democracy

After Angela Merkel’s expectations-surpassing result in the German National Election with a combined 41.5% for the CDU/CSU, the celebratory champagne already turned stale on election night. It dawned on the victorious sister parties that their former FDP coalition partner couldn’t jump the 5% hurdle to get into the Bundestag, so that they would now have to negotiate with left-wing partners to form a majority government.


Also few days after the election, the SPD’s candidate for Federal Chancellor, Peer Steinbrück, decided to resign and leave party politics altogether. The other two, more left-leaning leaders in the SPD’s triumvirate, Sigmar Gabriel and Frank-Walter Steinmeier, seem to take negotiations in their stride. But they don’t want to end up in the embrace of the “Black Widow” Merkel, losing many more voters after four years, as she might claim part of their programme as her own, but blame them if things go badly.

For Merkel to build a coalition with Die Grüne will be even more complicated, as they positioned themselves to the left of the SPD in their election manifestos, but in the end got only 8.4%: a dismal result, considering that opinion polls predicted over 20% just a few years ago. After the election, Die Grüne was shaken by reprimands and quarrels which resulted in the resignation of the entire leadership. In the meantime, younger, upcoming members want to change Die Grüne into a more “bourgeois” party and promote “liberal freedom”, although at this point nobody knows what this means in terms of their future political programme.

So, in this crisis and stalemate of finding fitting coalition partners to build a working German government, the question arises of whether the German President ultimately has to call new elections.

Germany’s present Constitution has learned lessons from the unstable time of the Weimar Republic and has curtailed the power of the President, who, at that time, could install a Chancellor without asking Parliament. In modern Germany, the President can only nominate Merkel, but she has to find an absolute majority in the Bundestag to vote for her.

If this first try fails, parliamentarians have two weeks to come up with new suggestions for a candidate for Chancellor, but this also requires an absolute majority. At the third attempt, though, only a simple majority may determine the outcome. At this point, the President can exert his power and decide if he wants to appoint a Chancellor with a minority government, or call new elections.

So far, the only one certain fact is that Parliament has to convene 30 days after the election, namely, 22nd October. As there will be party conventions over the weekend, each party will be talking to its members, finding out how far they will be able to compromise to build a government with Angela Merkel’s CDU and Horst Seehofer’s CSU.  It will be much more difficult for left-wingers to please the Bavarian sister party, which has to answer to a more socially and economically conservative constituency, especially about the sore point of raising even more taxes.

Recently the left-wing Die Linke suggested a new coalition with the SPD and Die Grüne, to combine the forces of the Left of political spectrum, which, theoretically, has a majority. But many members of the SPD and Die Grüne categorically ruled out this kind of coalition, having already talked, before the election, about the unreliability of the Die Linke, a party consisting of many ex-communist and true socialists.

Probably the most likely outcome will be CDU/CSU finally forming a grand coalition with the SPD, as the conservatives need SPD votes in the Second House, the ‘Bundesrat’ (representatives of governments of the Länder), to pass laws. Here the SPD and its coalition partners have currently the majority.

But this grand coalition will not only be a sad day for free-market liberals, but also very bad for German democracy. The grand coalition will have over 503 seats in parliament, compared to a meagre 127 votes of the combined opposition parties, and would rule with an overall 80% majority, According to the German Constitution, though, a vote of 25% of parliamentarians is needed to call for public hearings or investigation committees. Balance and transparency in the many democratic processes would be lost. The feeble opposition would be without power in the legislature for the next four years.

The last time there was a below-25% opposition in the Bundestag was in 1966, when the APO (Außer Parlamentarische Oposition or Extra-Parliamentary Opposition) formed on the streets, as people saw how easily laws could be changed without any true opposition in Parliament. Will there be a new cause for a 21st century APO, once the euro-crisis returns with full force?


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