Clarity after all, in a night of negative records: Chancellor Merkel will govern with the Liberals, but a weak mandate
The numbers below are still approximate, because the final count may not be published until Monday. Nevertheless, the following is already clear:
- The liberal Free Democrats (FDP) are the triumphant winners of the election €“ at 14.6-14.7 %, their best result since 1949 (but not as good as they'd hoped when they were polling up to 16%). In 2005, they'd achieved only 9.8%. Guido Westerwelle, leader of the Liberal party, looks set to become Germany's first liberal foreign minister since Hans-Dietrich Genscher (foreign minister from 1974 to 1992). The Liberal group in the Federal legislature will be double the size of the group of the CSU, the Christian Democrats' Bavarian sister party. They should be able to claim at least three ministries in all
- The center-left Social Democrats suffer a dramatic upset €“ at 23.3%, worse even than the polls had predicted. This is their worst outcome since 1949; the second-worst being 28.8% in 1953 €“ no party has suffered such a drastic loss from one election to the next in the history of the Federal Republic. Of the 6 million votes they lost, 50% went to CDU, Left Party and Greens; the other 50% did not vote at all. What this means is that the SPD's declared strategy of mobilizing the undecideds was a complete failure €“ despite an energetic and relaxed performance by top candidate Frank Walter Steinmeier in the one televised debate between him and Merkel. Steinmeier has acknowledged his defeat and announced that he will become leader of the opposition
- The center-right CDU scrapes through, but barely: Angela Merkel will remain Chancellor. At 33.6%, however, the Conservatives have lost a point compared to 2005; the only time they did worse was in 1949, at 31%. All this despite Angela Merkel's undiminished personal popularity ratings €“ possibly a consequence of her moving the CDU to the middle of the political landscape, and therewith forgoing a more sharply-etched conservative agenda
- The CSU got its second worst election result since 1949 with 41% (down from absolute majorities in Bavaria until only a few years ago)
- In historical terms, this means that the Volksparteien, or popular parties, continue on their downward trend:
- The other winners of the election are the Greens and the Left Party, both for the first time with double-digit results at 10.2-10.5% (from 8.1% in 2005) for the Greens and 12.2-12.9% (from 8.7% in 2005) for the Left Party.
- The Left Party, from a beginning as a motley grouping of East German post-Communists, disgruntled Social Democrats and paleolithic West German ultra-leftists, and a political impact focused mainly on the states of the former East Germany, establishes itself as a political force to be reckoned with in German national politics €“ not yet as a coalition partner, but certainly as a potential spoiler
- The current grand coalition of CDU and SPD is at an end, as the CDU and the FDP have a safe, but weak governing majority of 48.2% without overhang mandates (for a definition, see Saturday's blog). This means that threats from the left of the political aisle to challenge the legitimacy of the government based on a German supreme court calling for an overhaul of the German voting system are without foundation. It may take until the late evening until the exact number of overhang mandates is clear, but pundits are predicting there will be at least 16
- The SPD could not have formed a governing majority with the Greens and the Left Party even if it had not categorically excluded a national coalition with the Left Party
- Distribution of the 609 seats in the Bundestag (again, without the overhang mandates):
- CDU: 231
- SPD: 147
- FDP: 92
- Left: 77
- Greens: 62
- Majority needed to form a government: 305
- CDU+FDP: 323
- Voter participation rates also scored a negative record at 72.5% €“ 5% less than in 2005. The main reason, analysts are saying, is the 2 million SPD voters stayed at home
- No right-wing parties managed to pass the 5% threshold for entry into the federal legislature (there were about two dozen "other" parties, who polled at about 6% in total)
- And, in the biggest surprise of all: the surveys turned out to be more or less accurate!
What does all this mean for the future of Germany's policies, and its political landscape? Three things: a generational shift in the political leadership; fragmentation; and a re-polarization of politics. Watch this space €¦
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.