One week before German federal election, the race is wide-open again

Saturday, September 10, 2005

This article is part of the series
German federal elections 2005
Election Day

With only one week to go till the German federal election, all polls say it's impossible to predict who will govern the country for the next four years (for the polls see end of article).

Gerhard Schröder today in Munich

Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) had headed the polls for over two years. Only three months ago, when chancellor Gerhard Schröder proclaimed he would seek early elections, a move that at the time was considered to be political suicide by many commentators, it seemed not unlikely that the CDU could even govern on its own, without an coalition partner. While their lead was slowly shrinking in the past few months, there was still a comfortable majority for a coalition with the Free Democrats (FDP).

Then came the TV debate between Schröder and Merkel. Commentators and newspaper editorials first thought it didn't have much impact. Sure, the "Media chancellor" Schröder was widely considered to have performed better, but that was to be expected. And Merkel certainly wasn't as bad as Schröder's Social Democrats (SPD) had hoped. Also the topics they talked about weren't really new. Every position they stated had already been printed and broadcasted over and over again.

But something did happen. The CDU plunged between 2-3% in the various polls, while the SPD gained as much as 3.5%. Suddenly the black-yellow (named for the party colors of the CDU and FDP) majority was gone. But the current red-green (this time the colors of SPD and Greens) coalition is even farther from reaching a majority because there is also the Left Party.

The Left Party (or simply The Left) is essentially a renamed PDS, which in turn is the successor of the SED, the former ruling party of the GDR. It failed the 5% quorum in the 2002 election and currently only has two representatives in the Bundestag; both won constituencies in East Berlin. The Left originally planned to merge with the WASG, a party mainly consisting of former SPD members who were disappointed by Schröder's social reforms, before the election which would have been held in 2006. However, they were caught off guard by the early elections call, so candidates of the WASG for the Bundestag now run under The Left banner. One of them is Oskar Lafontaine. File:Oskar Lafontaine.jpg

Oskar Lafontaine
(Image missing from Commons: image; log)

Lafontaine was the Party chair of the SPD. He was also the Finance minister in Schröder's first government. But only a few months after the SPD got in power after 16 years of CDU government, he resigned in March 1999 from both the offices of minister and party chair, citing insurmountable political and personal differences with Schröder. He largely stayed out of politics, writing only a few books and newspaper columns, but is now, along with Gregor Gysi, one of two front-runners of the Left Party.

So the Party of Left may tip the scales in this election. But all other parties have ruled out a coalition with them and The Left itself also called it impossible that a common ground could be found with the "neoliberal" parties currently in the Bundestag.

So, assuming neither black-yellow nor red-green reach a majority, what options are left? Maybe, the only remaining possibility is a grand coalition between the SPD and the CDU. But the differences between those two parties seem irreconcilable from today's viewpoint. There are radically different approaches in the fields of taxation, social and labor reforms to name only a few. Angela Merkel has recruited a jurist from the German constitutional court, Paul Kirchhof, to her team. Kirchhof plans to introduce a flat tax on income, 25% for everyone, and remove all tax exemptions. While the CDU doesn't want to go that far during the next four years, it has already named Kirchhof finance minister in the case they win the election. The SPD has blasted those plans as "radically unsocial" and instead plans to increase the taxes for wealthier people.

Another hot topic is Germany's high unemployment. The CDU plans to abolish the dismissal protection of workers to give companies greater flexibilty in the hiring of their employees. Again, this is a no-go for the SPD.

Various Polls
Party ARD ZDF Focus FAZ
SPD 34,0 34,0 34,5 32,7
CDU/CSU 41,0 41,0 40,5 41,5
Greens 7,0 7,0 7,0 7,2
FDP 6,5 7,0 7,0 7,0
The Left 8,5 8,0 8,0 8,9

But the two parties won't even speculate about this option. Both ruled out a coalition with each other. Nonetheless, 35% of all Germans think this coalition would be the best for the nation, a survey by the ZDF shows. That is still more than the 31% who would favor a black-yellow coalition and 17% who want a continuation of the current red-green government.

So, Germans have to wait for the 18th of September to know who will govern them for the next four years. But then again, it might even take two weeks longer because a by-election is required in Dresden, after a candidate died. And if it gets even closer than the aforementioned polls suggest, Germany will have to wait till October 2nd for a new, or the old government.

Related news