Sunday, September 27, 2009

Live from Berlin

It is about 8:30 in the evening in Germany and I am writing from the Bundespresseamt, as the major party leaders are engaged in an election postmortem on the "Berliner Runde." Of course the final results are not yet in, but everyone (including the party leaders) already have called this one.

And there will be a (partial) change in government, with a likely majority for the CDU/CSU-FDP--even without the much maligned Ueberhangmandate (which will stop the charges of a potentially illegitimate victory for Black/Yellow). Worringly, participation is estimated to have sunk to a low 72%.

The current results are (as of 8:59 PM):

CDU/CSU 33.8% This is less than most surveys were predicting (around 35%), but not bad at all, about 1 % less than 2005. One major reason was another drop in the CSU vote in Bavaria. Of course the CSU is already blaming the FDP for "stealing" second votes. Guido Westerwelle (probably the next foreign minister) reacted critically to this charge. Westerwelle, by the way, appears rather uptight and testy on TV right now. But, Merkel says that she is satisfied with this result and will stay in office.

SPD 23.1% This result (although long predicted) is the worst result for any party since 1949. The party lost 17% of the vote (compared to 2005) in the less than 30 age group; 12% in the 30-44 cohort, but only 5% in the over 60. Steinmeier just announced that he wants to stay on as opposition leader, but we'll see about that. There must be blood! Recriminations already have begun.

FDP 14.5 One the best results in a long time and a clear victory for this party, which will join the government for the first time since 1998 (its longest stint in the opposition since the Federal Republic was founded). Clearly, many Germans split their votes, giving their Zweitstimme to the Liberals. In Baden-Wuerrtemburg, the party gained about 18% of the second votes. This strong result will empower the party to play hardball in the coalition negotiations and to demand even more cabinet posts.

Left Party 12.1% This is a real victory for this party--slightly higher than most of the last polls were predicting. Oskar Lafontaine is clearly happy and is rubbing this result in the face of his old party comrades in the SPD. Even though many analysts think the party will have major challenges retaining unity, this result will be a major motivator to stay together. This result is also an indication that there are still many unhappy folks in the country--especially in the East where they appear entrenched.

Greens 10.5% Clearly, this is a disappointment for the party, even though this is about 2% more than 2005. But, they have lost about 3-4% of what they were polling several weeks ago. I think they had a real problem defining their profile in this political environment. Also, leaders like Trittin and Kuenast appear tired. Renewal is necessary here as well.

Others 5.9% Apparently, the media darling, "Pirate Party" garnered as much as 2% of the vote. Political scientists will have to mull over what this rather high result for other parties indicates.

Personally, I am happy with this outcome. I agree with the Economist that Angie needs to be uncaged. I think Germany needs the kind of reforms that a Black-Yellow government will be able to push through. Moreover, the SPD needs nothing more than a spell in opposition to rebuild itself and to deal with its left flank. The Left Party will have to watch out.

Now the real fun begins with coalition negotiations, a new governmental program (hopefully addressing the policy backlog that the grand coalition necessarily ignored), the internal party bloodlettling (in the SPD, Greens and probably the CSU), and, of course, the analyses by pollsters and political scientists. Certainly, there are many concepts that need to be up-dated and addressed--the death of the catch-all Volkspartei, reform to the arcane electoral system, the deep structural reforms that the country needs.

As Merkel just said at the end of the Berliner Runde (presumably thinking that the microphone was off)--in an exhasuted, but business-like voice: OK. Manager Merkel is ready to get on with things.

--Eric Langenbacher

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