The leaders of Germany's main opposition party, the center-left Social Democratic
Party (SPD) agreed yesterday to begin talks on forming a coalition government with
Chancellor Angela Merkel's ruling right-of-center Christian Democratic Union (CDU)
and its Bavarian counterpart, the Christian Social Union (CSU). However, any agreement
between the Union parties and the Social Democrats will have to be approved by SPD's
472,000 members in a binding vote.
In last Sunday's election to the Bundestag - the lower chamber of Germany's bicameral
Parliament - CDU/CSU won a clear victory over SPD, which scored minor gains but still
polled its second-worst result in the history of the Federal Republic of Germany.
However, CDU/CSU's coalition partner, the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) fell
just below the five percent threshold needed to secure parliamentary representation,
and lost all its seats in the Bundestag for the first time ever; in turn, this left
Chancellor Merkel without an overall legislative majority. While the exclusion of
both FDP and the Alternative for Germany (AfD) - a new Euro-sceptic party that polled
strongly, but also fell short of the five percent hurdle - allowed the country's
three main left-wing parties - SPD, the environmentalist Greens and the post-Communist
Left - to win a small combined majority in the Bundestag, SPD leaders have repeatedly
made it clear they will not join forces with The Left, which remains widely reviled
in western Germany as the successor of East Germany's defunct Communist Party.
Nevertheless, the Social Democrats had been reluctant to join CDU/CSU in a coalition
government, not least because the Social Democrats and the Christian Democrats -
Germany's two major parties since 1949 - have been traditional adversaries. Just as
important, Merkel's successive coalition partners - SPD itself in 2005-2009 and FDP
from 2009 to 2013 - went on to suffer heavy losses at the polls, and many SPD members
fear history could repeat itself if the party agrees once more to form a coalition
government with Merkel. However, at this juncture the only other alternatives would
be a coalition between the Union parties and the Greens - generally regarded as
highly unlikely - or a minority CDU/CSU government, which Merkel has already ruled
out. Moreover, post-election polls indicate a large majority of German voters want
the Chancellor to form a coalition government with the Social Democrats.
Although both the Greens and The Left lost ground in last Sunday's election, the
latter became Germany's third largest party for the first time ever. However, differences
in voting patterns persist on both sides of the now-defunct Iron Curtain, twenty-three
years after reunification: while The Left finished a poor fifth in the "old Länder"
of the former West Germany, it remains the second largest party in the "new Länder"
of the former German Democratic Republic. On the other hand, FDP managed to finish just above the five percent threshold in western Germany, but the party's
disastrous result in eastern Germany dragged its share of the vote below the critical
hurdle. That said, CDU topped the poll in every Länder it ran except Hamburg and
Bremen (both carried by SPD), while CSU swept in Bavaria.
Elections to the German Bundestag has detailed results of every
Bundestag election since 1949, including last Sunday's vote, which was held under
a reformed electoral
system intended to guarantee a fully proportional distribution of Bundestag seats
among qualifying parties. Ironically, the exclusion of FDP, AfD and a host of smaller
parties - most notably among them the digital privacy/rights-oriented Pirate Party,
which scored modest gains compared to its previous showing four years ago - led
to an unusually disproportionate election outcome, as a record 15.7% of the votes
cast for party lists were "wasted" on parties that failed to make it to the Bundestag.