Yesterday – Election Day. I, as an expat, was merely a bystander. But that did not stop a familiar shiver of emotion running up my spine at the sight of people strolling to the local polling station, peacefully coming together to democratically express their hopes and dreams for their country.
Today – it is clear that Angela Merkel and her right-leaning Christian Democrats (CDU) have won, though no-one is quite sure as yet how the governing coalition will be formed. On that, there are commentators in abundance and my half-baked comments won’t bring you much. So instead, I’ll mark this rather remarkable day (or not, as some might argue) in German political history by writing about my personal impressions.
We walked all together round the corner to the local school, and whilst I carefully explained to our three-year-old children that Papa was not going on a boat, but rather to ‘vote’, and that ‘yes, women can vote, it’s just Mummy can only vote in England, because she’s English and Papa only in Germany because he’s German’, my German husband disappeared behind one of those timeless wooden ballot boxes.
Later, we met a friend and took the U-Bahn all the way to Dahlem in the far south west of Berlin. It’s long journey, and – the children occupied by sandwiches and the general excitement of being on a train – we had plenty of opportunity to talk politics. And so it transpired that she and my husband had notably different political views, the atmosphere remained amicable and interested – credit really to their mutual friendship and mild natures.
The conversation yesterday anticipated the map shown in the Berliner Morgenpost this morning, detailing how Berlin voted. For the most part, the former GDR districts of the city voted for Die Linke (the far left party) and former West Berlin voted for Merkel’s CDU, with a handful of areas dominated by up and coming wealthy lefties voting for die Gruene.
A quick-fire summary of the main German parties with the percentage vote they won in yesterday’s election:
CDU (41.5%) – Christian Democrats (along with sister party CSU – its Bavarian equivalent) represent the conservative centre right. They have been in power under Angela Merkel since 2005, at first in a grand coalition “Grosse Koalition” with the SPD and then from 2009 with the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP). With a very broad sweep of the brush, the CDU are proponents of a market approach to economic policy and taxation, and traditional structures – protecting families and giving tax breaks to married couples.
SPD (25.7%) – Social Democrats (currently led by Peer Steinbrueck) are the main left-leaning party, who formed the Grosse Koalition with the CDU in 2005 and since 2009 have been the main opposition party. They put forward a more social programme, of higher taxation for the very rich, greater banking regulation and initiatives to extend the welfare state.
Die Linke (8.6%) – far-left party which was formed from the remnants of two post-communist socialist parties from East Germany and the far-left fraction of the SPD in West Germany, along with a couple of other far-left West German parties. They are popular in the former GDR, and have gained some ground in parts of West Germany with their programme of significant wealth-redistribution, a high minimum wage and stringent taxation of the rich, They also, controversially, call for international disarmament, the replacement of NATO and the withdrawal of German troops from any international activity.
FDP (4.8%) – liberal Free Democrats have spent the previous 4 years in a governing coalition with the CDU. Having surged in popularity in the 2009 elections (close to 15% of the vote) they slumped dramatically yesterday to less than the 5% required for any seats in the German parliament. Known for their free market economics and thought of by many as the party of rich young men, they are on the political right.
Die Gruene (8.4%) – the Green party has grown from a single issue party (anti-nuclear energy) to an environmentally-driven left-wing party, firmly established in parliament. They had promised pre-election to form a coalition, if feasible with the SPD.
So, it would appear, that many people appear happy with the status quo. Angela Merkel has steered the great German ship through the storms of the global financial crisis and more recently the Euro-crisis, only for the country to remain strong, economically vibrant and politically stable – unlike so many of its European counterparts.
But this view is not held by all. Some, particularly in former East Germany – feel that the banks have not yet been punished enough for shaking the economy to its core, nor are they pleased at the prospect that the wealthier will continue to get fatter and richer, whilst a poor underclass remain impoverished. And on the other end of the spectrum. there are a few others (about 4.8% of the population) who don’t believe that the Euro and a united Europe presents the best prospects for Germany: this minority voted for the newly-formed Alternativ fuer Deutschland (AfD) party – who suggest an exit from the Euro.
If we are to live in Germany for many years to come, then I can anticipate a day when I would like to be able to put forward my political opinions for real. Not yet, though. For now, I’m enjoying the show – as long as it stays as mild mannered as it is for all the political differences there may be.
As the magazine, Spiegel, put it: the detective plot of the German election is still to be revealed. What the constellation of power will be, and how secure the CDU’s footing in driving through their own agenda, only a few insiders can really know.