Saturday, October 26, 2013

German Elections: Merkel – again?

From Dan Armstrong in Germany

German political institutions are very good at statistics. Within minutes of the end of voting in September, the television stations showed provisional voting figures for the parties. Within a couple of hours, the final results had been computed. The CDU with its sister party the CSU in Bavaria received the biggest share of the vote with 41.5%. The second biggest group was not the SPD; it was the 28.5% of the non-voters. A further 15.8% of those who actually voted have no representation in the new parliament because they voted for parties which got less than the 5% minimum, taken together that is well over 44%  or more than Merkel got. Democratic representation of the views of the people? Well, no, not really.

In Germany, in the same way as across Europe, the main parties have converged and support a political acceptance of capitalism in crisis and argue only about minor tactics of how to reduce deficits or disguise their attacks on the social services which the working class have built up since the end of World War II. And so the TV debate between Angela Merkel and Peer Steinbrück of the SPD addressed few serious questions and offered few solutions. The SPD emphasised the need for a legal minimum wage and Merkel agreed that there should be minimal wage for many industries.

How is it that Chancellor Merkel managed to be re-elected for a third time in such a problematical time for world capitalism? The main point is that Merkel is not Thatcher. While the finance minister was pursuing cuts and counter reforms in many area to reduce domestic debt, she adopted a number of reforms from her opponents. Following the Fukushima disaster, Merkel abruptly carried out a dramatic U-turn in energy policy and decreed the closure of all nuclear power plants and a huge increase in renewables. In the face of a massive erosion of permanent jobs, there was a large increase in the number of workers doing part-time work or working for manpower supply agencies so that the worker’s contract was not with the firm they were working at, but with the agency.

Naturally wage levels and job security were automatically worsened. Wage levels generally remained stagnant for over ten years which is fine for German capitalists but not so good for the millions who create the wealth. Ten per cent of the workforce now hold more than one job in order to pay the bills.  The media exposed terrible wage levels in certain service industries such as office cleaning, hairdressing etc. where hourly rates of pay could be as low as 3 Euros per hour. Although the CDU generally represents the interests of the ruling class, it nevertheless was prepared to allow the introduction of legal minimum wages for a number of industries.

These two reforms in energy production and the introduction of legally binding minimum  wages are good examples of how the CDU positioned itself to win the election of 2013. It stole the clothes of the Greens regarding renewable energy and partially the clothes of the left regarding raising starvation wages. It also combated the reactionary policies of its liberal coalition partner, the FDP, for example with regard to undermining the health insurance system. And so thanks to the German passion for statistics, we know exactly not only how voters voted but also how they changed their vote from 2009 to 2013.

The CDU /CSU gained over 200,000 votes from former SPD voters and 2,110,000 from former liberals. This caused a lethal loss in votes for the FDP from 14.6% down to 4.8% and a loss of all its parliamentary seats. We also learn that 420,000 former supporters of the Greens also voted for Merkel this time. Rightwing opponents of Merkel inside the CDU often spoke of her as a “social democrat”; some disappointed rightwingers, looking for a new political home, turned to the small Allianz für Deutschland which is a eurosceptic party of business people which calls for the split of the euro into a ‘northern Euro’ and a ‘southern Euro’ and an orientation eastwards towards Poland, Belorus and Russia. This AfD almost replaced the FDP, gaining 4.7% from a standing start and since the election has increased its supported by several points. At the next elections, it will probably gained seats. This party picked up most voters unsurprisingly from the FDP with 430,000 votes; but it also attracted 340,000 former voters of the Linke, the Left Party. The position of the Linke will be looked at in greater detail elsewhere. The result for the SPD was almost as bad as its worst ever result in 2009 when it got 23% of the vote.

In spite of the solid support for Merkel, we know that she did not win enough seats for a majority government. Numerically the SPD, the Greens and Linke have an absolute majority in the  Bundestag with 319 mandates.

Constitutionally, the largest party is required to try to form a majority government. After losing the FDP coalition partner, the CDU / CSU had to risk forming a minority government which would be unstable for the system or holding new elections where the outcome would be uncertain too or trying to form a coalition with the either the Greens or the SPD.

If the Greens and the SPD choose, they can refuse cooperation with the CDU / CSU. Then the SPD would try to form a coalition. A left majority already exists. There is a close identity between the political programmes of SPD and the Linke in many areas.  The Greens have dropped their objection to working with “post-communists”. And so we could have a left reform government in Germany by next weekend – IF the SPD was prepared to drop its hatred for the Linke.

This article originally appeared for the Workers’ Party in Umea, Sweden.

Parliamentary Elections
                            2013           2009
CDU / CSU         41.5            33.8
SPD                     25.7            23
Greens                                    8.4        10.7
Linke                   11.9            8.6
FDP                     14.6            4.8
AfD                     4.7              0
Piraten                 2.2              2.0
Others                 4.1

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