Saro Thiruppathy reviews the German election and what the outcome means
Migrants, Muslims, minarets and mosques! These are words that are used to manipulate semi-informed people and scare them into casting their ballots for far-right political parties when their people go to the polls.
This phenomenon of fear mongering during election campaigning was seen in the US, France, Holland and most recently, Germany.
Europe is especially vulnerable to the rhetoric that calls for the immediate cessation of refugees and illegal immigrants entering their countries, as fears of unemployment, terrorism and economic problems are trumpeted by the prophets of doom that populate far-right political parties. If the migrant issue did not exist, it is anybody’s guess as to what platform the fire and brimstone brigade would mount in order to win votes.
Chancellor Angela Merkel is a respected leader not only because of her educational attainments. She has proven to be a force to be reckoned with as a female European head of state in an arena where most of her counterparts are men.
IMMIGRATION Merkel’s policies on migrants have been compassionate, and raised the bar among EU countries to accommodate those fleeing for their lives from countries ravaged by military and social unrest, mostly in the aftermath of the Arab Spring.
A few days before the election, students from the Humboldt University of Berlin – one of Germany’s oldest and most famous liberal arts and humanities schools – were interviewed by the Globe and Mail newspaper. Many of them spoke of Merkel with respect, saying that she’s not an ideologue, seeks practical compromises, and is pragmatic and trustworthy.
Her decision to call an open vote in parliament on same-sex marriage was considered a mature and fair decision. And even though Merkel herself voted against gay unions, the outcome of the vote was in their favour.
REFUGEE POLICY Her refugee policy also found favour among many students who considered the opening up of Germany’s borders to receive almost a million refugees in 2015 as an act of human compassion and generosity. But since no good deed goes unpunished, Merkel’s decision to allow refugees into Germany was grist to the mill of the far-right anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which was propelled into the limelight over this issue.
The AfD’s election campaign focussed on fanning the flames of xenophobia and is now the first overtly nationalist party to sit in the Bundestag in six decades.
FOURTH TERM Though Merkel’s party, which is an alliance comprising the Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU) and the Christian Social Union in Bavaria (CSU), won the election with 32.9 percent of the votes, its voter base reduced by 8.6 percent from the previous poll in 2013.
So though Merkel embarks on her fourth term as the Chancellor of Germany, her strength has been seriously eroded even though her party is the largest in the Bundestag.
Some cold comfort for Merkel is the decimation of her rival (and former coalition partner) the Social Democratic Party (SDP). It garnered only 20.5 percent of the vote, which is 5.2 percent less than its share in 2013. On the heels of the first exit poll, SDP’s leader Martin Schulz announced that the party would not renew its coalition partnership with Merkel and sit with the opposition instead.
A COALITION So Merkel’s options lie with a three party coalition between the CDU/CSU, the Free Democratic Party (FDP) and the Greens.
Founded in 1948, the FDP’s membership came from the German Democratic Party and German People’s Party. It has been a coalition partner with the CDU/CSU over five terms and the SDP from 1969 to 1982. In the 2013 election, the FDP came up short with less than the five percent threshold to sit in the Bundestag. But this year, it reentered the Bundestag by winning 10.6 percent of the vote.
The Free Democrats led by Christian Linder support human rights, civil liberties and internationalism, and is considered a centre-right party. The FDP also is a firm proponent of economic liberalism, free markets and privatisation.
Merkel’s third coalition partner will probably be the Greens – a political party formed through the merger of the German Green Party (founded in West Germany in 1980) and Alliance 90 (founded during the Revolution of 1989-90 in East Germany) in 1993. This election saw the Greens win nine percent of the vote.
Headed by Simone Peter and Cem Özdemir, the Greens party focusses on ecological, economic and social sustainability.
In the 2013 election, it took fourth place with 8.4 percent of the vote and 63 seats in the Bundestag.
It believes in the green politics of sustainable development, and considers the protection of nature and animals a high priority.
Climate change is at the core of all its policy considerations, and the party plans to propose a bill that lays down binding reductions on greenhouse gas emissions in Germany by 2020, and restricting emissions to less than 40 percent compared to 1990.
Merkel finds herself in an unenviable situation both in terms of her diminished presence in the Bundestag and the mandates of her coalition partners. Her ‘Jamaica coalition’ partners, like their colours (black, green and yellow), have distinctly different goals.