Thursday, September 3, 2009

rot rot grün?

[ red red green? ]

Sunday evening I attended a Bbq with Eva and Lutz to some neighbors in Saarbrücken. They were having a housewarming Bbq – their house was very modern and beautiful – but the actual event of the party seemed to be the TV set up in the backyard streaming the incoming election coverage. Now, as I have already introduced a few of the many political parties in Germany, the coverage is not as simple as red or blue covered states/counties like it is in the US. The TV screen showed bar graphs with many colors and percentages representing the many political parties.

When Saarland’s results were posted, everyone watched intensely, and within minutes, when it was done, everyone was very quiet, and in fact the volume was turned down, and awkwardly, the party resumed. I was a little confused, since there was no real in depth discussions taking place, but later I realized that it may have been embarrassment, discontent, or utter disgust with the standings in this particular Bundesland.

From what I saw on the screen was a tie – the SPD paired up with die Linke had an equal amount as the CDU paired up with the FDP. What the pie charts showed on the screen was the small Green party, with only a small percent of the vote, pulling either party over the majority 50% line – meaning that it was essencially up to this small party to choose its coalition to ultimately select a majority if the left and right resumed their desires to remain separate and not form a coalition.

Confused?

This is where my research and reading started over the past week. Hold on tight. One option is of course to create a Grand Coalition – remember the opposing CDU/SPD parties forming a coalition to refrain from extremist parties having too much control. This, however, was not the initial intentions of either popular party. In regards to the Bundeslands of Thuringia and Saarland, the votes of the people spoke a different story. Die Linke actually, for their standing as a small party, increased their support, and took votes away from the social democratic SPD, which can be interpreted in the forcast for next month’s national election as: if the SPD wants to govern Germany without being the second-man behind the CDU in a Grand Coalition, then it must do so with the left.

[ "Time for Change" - sound familiar? Yes, they can.... maybe]

I think that this is where the discontent of the Germans that were present with at the party is associated. The strong support for die Linke, the extreme leftist party, seems to leave a bitter taste in the mouths of some Germans. As a matter of fact, the party is generalized by some editorialists as being comprised of former communist and disgruntled trade unionists. What makes this slide to the left so staggering for a Bundesland like Saarland is that it would be the first previously western German state to support such a leftist-socialistic party [remember, led by former communists] to support such a coalition. I think this is what concerns some people of Saarland, and for such a small Bundesland in Germany, says a lot about the current political trends here in Germany.

The CDU is still the volkspartei – the people’s party – but it doesn’t claim the stark majority that would make it a natural win for next month’s election. It seems with the current political tides, the status quo of the Grand Coalition could be inevitable, even though by many Germans this would be frowned upon as not being progressive, in either direction that they support.

As for Saarland, for those wondering – did Peter Müller win? … Did he tie? – it is already Thursday, and I really don’t know yet. It has taken me this long to just begin to comprehend the fundamental formats of the German government and its elections. What I do know are the possible coalition outcomes. A Grand Coalition is possible, though not the most desireable outcome for either the CDU or SDP, or there is a “ red red green” which comprises of a coalition of the SPD, die Linke and the Green for governing majority [ hence the colors based off of their parties political agendas] or a possible “Jamaica Alliance” which would comprise of the CDU [ their color is black ] the FDP [Yellow] and the Green party [ the alliance named after the colors of the parties matching those of the Jamaican flag].

The previous three posts are not exactly what I wanted them to be like. On Sunday I was really hoping to learn about the elections, report the results, and have a concise understanding of how things worked here in German politics. It is now Thursday, and I am left with three very generalized, convoluted posts linking together history, national coverage, local coverage, opinions and hypotheses, and overall just a confused look at what could be happening here in Germany over the next month, and ultimately for the next four years. I am still learning myself, and I am just trying to share the very unique system here, and the equally unique drama that it creates.

[ When it comes down to it : Peter Müller]

The bottom line is that the election this month will not be a landslide win, and one particular quote summed that up.

"I've heard and read a lot recently that the (general) election is already over," said Steinmeier at the SPD headquarters in Berlin. "This election night has shown that to be a huge mistake."

Now I have an entire month to observe the news around me and see how this political saga unfolds. Leave questions or comments that you want me to particularly look out for and address if you are interested in something happening here with the elections and campaigning here in Germany.

der Wahlraum

[ The voting room ]

Sunday was Election Day in Germany and around the city I saw different buildings with signs, wahlraum, that cued people indoors to cast their ballot for the regional Bundesland elections. At around noon, after coming back from Church and having a rather slow and relaxed morning myself, I was invited by the Webbers to go with them as they voted. I definitely wanted to see how everything went, and to put it one way, it went fast. I already thought it was very interesting that the election day took place on a Sunday. I know that Americans almost take pride in their opportunity to leave work [ or class ] and vote...

In the states, I have already utilized my ability to vote twice, and both times resulted in long waits, identification checks, some paperwork, and then more waiting before you finally were able to go behind a private station, and then wait more the scan your vote through a machine. I only assumed that the practice would have been the same in Germany.

I don’t think I am exaggerating, however, when I say that my entire host family who was eligible to vote was checked in and done voting in all of 45 seconds. They walked in, handed a table their green card from the mail that gave them their address to vote, they received a sheet with the names of the political parties, they chose one [ only had to go behind the lone private voting booth if they wanted to] and turned it in. Done.

I was very surprised with how quick it was [but I still like getting my “I voted today” sticker in America. They didn’t seem to do that here… no tootsie rolls either…]. With the voting done, I was becoming inquisitive about topics that involved voting in Germany. These are the main things that I learned from this past Sunday.

  • To be able to vote in a German election, you must be 18, hold German citizenship, have a permanent residence in Germany or live abroad as a German. Generally, anyone over the age of 18 is also eligible for election as well.
  • The Bundestag is elected by two types of votes. One vote is made for the Constituency candidate and the candidate with the most votes wins. The other vote is for the party preference. This vote delegates, in later percentages, how many seats each party receives of the 598 that make up the German Bundestag.
  • The 5% rule: This rule ensure that only members of parties that receive more than 5% of valid second votes [ 3 seats] can enter the bundestag. [noting the surprise, and scare for some, that the neo-Nazi NPD party of Germany cleared 9% in the 2004 election, thus claiming a few seats in the Bundestag, based off of this rule]

So what does this have to do with the current national election at the end of the month, and the state of Angela Merkel and the CDU party? On Sunday evening, results were broadcasted on news programs, and it became apparent that the CDU had lost a significant amount of support in three Bundesländer that it had majority votes over in 2004; Saxony, Thuringia, and my current Bundesland, Saarland. These states had drops in support for the CDU and had a general swing towards the left-thinking parties, including the SPD. Saarland was split almost equally, and I will address this unique situation separately.

What was confusing for me, however, was that even though the election results were broadcasted, the actual standing of the governments in the Bundesländer were not yet complete, since the coalitions hadn’t been completed. Over the week I read editorials and coverage reports about the standings, and many of them addressed the future for Merkel and the CDU party. Before the Bundesland elections, many assumed that Merkel would lead a majority, and then use that in late September to break ties with the SPD [ the Grand Coalition ] and collaborate with the small, but similar FDP party. After the results of Sunday’s election, which generally shows the forecast of the political mood in the country, the win for Merkel may not be so easy, and another term in a coalition with the SPD [Grand Coalition] may have to remain an option, since the votes have spoken that Germany may not be in favor of a center-right government with the CDU/FDP coalition option.

Groβe Koalition

[ Grand Coalition ]

To be completely honest, I was anticipating covering the election results that happened this past Sunday on that night, but things, as I later discovered, were a little more complicated. It is now Thursday, and I am still writing, deleting, researching, and questioning Germans over what is really going on.

What I thought was going to be one quick post has evolved into a bit more, and now I am dividing my findings about the current political scene here in Germany into three parts. I wanted to first address the current state that the government is here in Germany, and clarify the complexities of the voting system, and the unique set up that launched Merkel to become the first female chancellor in Germany. However, it would be foolish to address that now and not address the political tides that have changed since last Sunday in the regional elections, and shed a different light on the CDU party for the upcoming month before the National elections in late September. Another topic that deserved to be addressed completely separate as well was the very unique turn that Saarland took in last Sunday’s election, and how that reflects a very changing politics here in Germany.

So, before I share any findings and opinions on the present, I feel it is important for readers to understand what took place in Germany in 2005, and how those changes are effecting the current election.

In 2005, the CDU party, with chair Angela Merkel since 2000, was expected to have a clear domination in the national election. Commentators anticipated a clear CDU win, and a coalition with the FDP party to form a conservative cabinet in the German Bundestag. However, in the last month before the election, the support percentages for the CDU declined, and the party only won by a slim 1% margin.

In German government, no one particular party dominates in political ruling. In actuality, coalitions are formed between parties to form a majority in the Bundestag. In brief, since the CDU did not have a clear majority in the election, making it improbable to form the anticipated coalition with the FDP, a new coalition was formed between the CDU and the SPD. This was referred to as a Groβe Koalition, or a Grand Coalition. If you are squinting right now in confusion, don’t worry, because I was as well.

From reading the backgrounds of the partiesaren’t the CDU and the SPD in opposition on each other? This is where I first became baffled by the organization of the German government. The first image I had in my mind was imagining a coalition of Republicans and Democrats forming a union and then told to unanimously run the government as if they held majority together. It is true that the parties are in opposition of each other, but if the SPD had not formed a coalition with the CDU, then to create a majority, they would have formed a coalition with the Green party, as well as the leftist extremists, die Linke. What the parties had set up was a cordon sainitaire, which is a measure made by popular, central parties, even in opposition of each other, to join a coalition with each other to prevent the radical wing parties from having too much power within the government.

With Angela Merkel as the leader of the party with the highest popular vote – even after a slim margin - she had become the first female chancellor of Germany. Four years later, she is listed as the most powerful woman in the world, and has many accomplishments under her belt, and a generally positive approval rating. Currently, she is campaigning, which by some is said to be a natural win, for the next National election at the end of this month. It seems like a déjà vu, however, because in this last month before the elections, it seems that the political tides are changing again, and things could change for the CDU party and Germany.