Joe Hendren

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Tuesday, October 11, 2005

German grand coalition is formed despite Germans voting for a left wing government

It looks like the new government of Germany will be an "grand" coalition of the SPD and the centre right CDU/CSU parties, led by Angela Merkel as Chancellor.

This is a defeat for the current Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, who pushed to keep his job in the advent of a grand coalition being formed. It now looks likely he will decline a cabinet post in favour of semi-retirement and the chance to spend more time with his daughter.

While cabinet positions are yet to be finalised, it appears the CDU and its Barvarian sister CSU will have eight cabinet posts - Merkel as chancellor, a minister of state at the chancellery, and the economy, interior, defence, agriculture, education and family ministries. The Social Democrats are also expected to have eight ministers in the new government, with the social democrats gaining foreign affairs, finance, justice, labour, health, transport, environment and international development.

The irony is that a majority of Germans actually voted for a centre-left government. A total of 51.1 percent of Germans voted for the three parties to the left of the center, the SPD, the Green party and the newly formed Left Party. Only 43.9 percent voted for the conservatives and the free-market liberal Free Democrats (FDP).

It is a shame the animosity of the SPD and the Greens towards the Left party have denied the German people what they voted for. While it has been widely reported that all three parties rejected any sort of deal, recently many Left party MPs said they would consider supporting a SPD/Green minority government if the SPD would make changes to its neo-liberal agenda. Oskar Lafontaine, the Left Party's designated parliamentary group leader, praised the SPD and Green party agendas and also implied that his party could possibly work with them. Sadly, the SPD and the Greens have only responded with more sniping.

The newly formed Left party, itself a coalition of disenfranchised former SPD members and the PDS (the party that grew out of the communist party) gained 54 seats. With their support the SPD and the Greens could continue to govern with a heathy 40 seat majority in the 614 seat parliament.

Larry Elliott, economics editor of the Guardian, argues the inconclusive vote in Germany is a rejection of the neo-liberal policies pursed by Gerhard Schröder, and would be pursued with even more vigour by Angela Merkel.
"The strong showing by Oskar Lafontaine's Left party is indicative of the deep suspicion German voters have of what to them smacks of a wholesale introduction of the neo-liberal US economic model. Put simply, Germans don't buy the idea - touted by both Mr Schröder and Ms Merkel - that the way to safeguard Germany's post-war social democratic model is to dismantle it."

The mere fact that the SPD would prefer to form a coalition with the conservatives says a lot about the present direction of the SPD. With Merkel as Chancellor the right wing of the SPD will continue with the neo-liberal reforms they wanted to do anyway, and may attempt to blame Merkel for any fallout.

But it is the new Left party that has the most to gain from the CDU-SPD grand coalition. Only a few days ago, the left wing of the SPD were telling Schröder they would never work with Merkel as Chancellor. SPD deputy parliamentary leader Ludwig Stiegler, has refused to vote for Merkel and influential SPD leftwinger Andrea Nahles warned on Thursday against a deal where the SPD traded the chancellery for cabinet posts and policy concessions, which is exactly the kind of deal the SPD have made today.

In order to be Chancellor Merkel still needs to survive a secret ballot of MPs. It is possible a large number of SPD rebels could ignore the whip and vote for Schröder or another SPD candidate. In this situation the Left party could also tactically vote for Schröder, along with the Greens and give Merkel her first taste of defeat.

Nils Diederich, a professor of political science at Berlin's Free University, told the Guardian.
"If the SPD voted for Merkel this would be tantamount to the party shooting itself in the foot. Some 4%-5% of the SPD's core voters would desert it. They would join the Left party instead. It is going to be extremely difficult for the SPD's leadership to sell Mrs Merkel to its own supporters."

With the Greens also set to go into opposition I hope they can mend fences with the Left party. Especially when Oskar Lafontaine claims he could "sign the Green's election manifesto as it is. It's not far from the party that I currently represent". If the Greens and the Left party touted the dream of a coalition without the SPD, this could provide a strong incentive for the SPD to move back in a real Red/Green direction. A lesson for New Zealand perhaps :)

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