Monday, September 21, 2009

The Traffic Lights in Germany Are Turned Off - and the Ship to Jamaica is Not Sailing

This weekend the Free Democrats and the Green Party held party conventions in Potsdam and Berlin to send a last-minute signal to voters before next Sunday’s election. Beyond the slogans “Germany Can Do Better” and “The Path Out of the Crisis is Green,” the main message of this weekend was about possible coalitions. As a consequence there is little room for maneuvering left if all parties keep their election promise.

The FDP voted unanimously in favor of a coalition with the CDU/CSU, ruling out a coalition with the SPD and the Greens (a so-called traffic light coalition) and leaving the door open for a Jamaica coalition with the CDU/CSU and the Greens. The Greens ruled out the Jamaica option and the SPD has promised not to form a coalition with the Left Party on the federal level. As a result, only two realistic options are left as outcomes for the election: either a center-right coalition of CDU/CSU and FDP, or a continuation of the current grand coalition - unless, of course, one party changes its mind after the election. As for now, this seems unlikely to me. Neither a traffic-light nor a Jamaica coalition was ever successfully tested on the state level. The FDP was invited to join a coalition with the SPD and the Greens after the last federal election but refused to do so. And as long as Steinmeier and M√ľntefering lead the SPD it is hard to see them in a government with their foe Oskar Lafontaine from the Left Party.

This situation leaves the Green/ SPD campaign in a strategic dilemma. The Greens have no real power option left, so how can they convince the many undecided voters to join their camp? The potential sympathizer could feel that his or her vote would be lost if the Greens end up in the opposition. Similarly, the Social Democrats will have difficulties arguing convincingly how Frank-Walter Steinmeier can become chancellor. All they can ask the voter for is to strengthen the SPD in yet another grand coalition, but the campaign message up until now was to end it and not to ask for a renewal of this pact. As for the FDP, they seem to know game theory and made a smart yet controversial move by betting everything on one option only. They put the electorate in a position in which they must decide to either vote for the relatively unpopular grand coalition – thus voting for the SPD – or in favor of change by voting for the Free Democrats.

And where does this leave Angela Merkel and her CDU/CSU? In her presidential way of campaigning she has not taken part in this game since under all of these options she will remain chancellor. Therefore she is attractive to those voters seeking stability but at the same time is threatened by a loss of votes to the SPD and the FDP. If this analysis turns out to be correct, she will still be the head of the government but her position as the leader of the CDU will be weakened.

--Tim Stuchtey

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