Friday, August 14, 2009

Election without campaign

It's a German tradition that elections for the Bundestag take place in late summer (normally end of September). Therefore, there is usually a lack of attention for election campaigns due to summer holidays which end only shortly before the election. Furthermore, the German parliamentary system also contributes to short-term campaigns. While in the US primary elections and party conventions charged with emotion increase the tension over a long period, Germans are accustomed to only short-term campaigns. But this year, with only seven weeks to go, the indifference for the election is especially significant.

If the media did not speak about the forthcoming Election Day, nobody would know about it. Superficially, it seems that the parties have decided to cancel campaigning for this year. However, the truth is that this atmosphere of non-campaigning is part of the campaign; or at least not the worst case scenario for the campaigners.

For the CDU/CSU, party of Chancellor Angela Merkel, everything is fine. The results of the latest polls are no longer as they used to be years ago. But "the years of plenty have passed", 35 to 38 % seem to be the current potential. Therefore, the Christian Democrats have no interest in an offensive campaign that could mobilize not only the own partisans, but also others.

For the second largest party in Germany, the weakened Social Democrats (SPD), everything seems hopeless. The party elite underlines the fact that there is enough time for a fulminate catch-up race like 2005, when Gerhard Schroeder, who was apparently the underdog candidate, was nearly voted chancellor once again. But nobody buys into these evocations of the past anymore. Their candidate of 2009, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who was never chancellor before, is not as charismatic as Schroeder. Steinmeier's opponent is no longer an inexperienced and pale woman from East-Germany as in 2005, but a popular head of government. Neither the public nor the partisans themselves believe in another sensation. Many of them even hope not to win the election but to be able to start in the opposition all over again. Especially the party on the ground cannot be motivated for a committed election campaign. Efforts of the party elite gain no traction.

For the remaining smaller parties FDP (Liberals), GrĂ¼ne (Greens) and Die Linke (Socialists) an uninspiring campaign of the larger parties is helpful because it does not lure voters away from them. Furthermore, the smaller parties are the winners of the ongoing crisis of the people's parties. All of them have high hopes to achieve the best results at elections for the Bundestag ever. Why, for god's sake, should they start a larger and more emotional campaign?

The campaign will gather momentum in the remaining weeks before the polling day. Then the parties will try to win the undecided. But one thing is almost clear: The election campaign 2009 will not be remembered as history-making, but rather as an "election without campaign". At least unless something extraordinary happens.

-- Michael Weigl

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