Sun Sep 27th, 2009 at 04:46:42 AM EST
In the last days before today's election, excitement has finally come to the German elections, by virtue of tightening polls. That, and Steini-Girl.
First the polls. The poll
released by Forsa on Friday, which will have been the last, shows the christian-democratic CDU/CSU union at 33%, its lowest levels of the entire cycle. The social-democratic SPD has stabilised at 25%. The FDP gets 14%, the Left Party 11 and the Greens 10.
If this is the outcome of the elections, a potential coalition between the CDU/CSU and the free market liberals of the FDP will still command a comfortable majority in the Bundestag, as the christian democrats should get more overhang seats than the SPD in this election - an artifice of the current arrangement of the mixed member proportional system. But the race might tighten further in the last days.
The German electoral system causes a number of paradoxes. For one, the recent polling trend has been that the CDU/CSU loses ground, but the FDP holds steady. This is not exclusively positive news for the FDP, as the potential for it to enter the government will also depend upon the spread between the CDU/CSU and the SPD - the smaller that spread, the lower the advantage in overhang seats will be for the christian democrats.
It was not entirely unexpected that the race would tighten in the last week. It's what happened four years ago, and part of the dynamics of the electoral campaign. Still, it is surprising that it happens mainly through the CDU/CSU losing ground. 33% would be a poor outcome for Merkel, worse than what the party got in 2005. Steinmeier, at least, will be able to argue that he exceeded expectations and got his party out of a dry spell if the SPD gets more than 25%.
Majority with votes of the minority and constitutional law
Given the more equal division of votes between the parties on the left side of the political spectrum than those of the 'bourgeouis camp', it is possible that with a small minority of the votes, say 46 to 47 percent, the CDU/CSU and FDP will still have a majority of the seats in the German Bundestag. This is constitutional as long as the overhang seats don't make up more than 5% of the total, according to an old judgment
(de, see par. 101-102) of the federal constitutional court in Karlsruhe.
Another aspect of the overhang seat allocation under the current law can result in a negative weight for a 'second vote'. In Germany you vote for the direct candidate first and the party list second. Because of the allocation method for the overhang seats, it can occur that a second vote has a negative weight in an electoral district if the direct candidate of the same party doesn't win the district. This has been ruled unconstitutional by Karlsruhe in July last year. The deadline that it set for reforming the electoral law to fix this situation is in 2011, well past the current elections. However, there will have to be some freak scenario with a one or two seat majority for the CDU and FDP for this to decide the elections.
The current trend in polling shows the SPD gaining and the CDU losing, and as these two largest parties converge, the potential for a government representing less votes than the parliamentary opposition grows smaller. However, it is possible and if the CDU and FDP do go into negotiations on such a coalition there is a large opportunity for the opposition to characterise it as illegitimate with an eye on bringing it to a fall and having new elections as soon as the electoral law has been fixed.
It's not all federal, or, as Schleswig-Holstein goes...
In addition to the federal elections, there are state elections in Brandenburg and Schleswig-Holstein which have a potential impact on the federal level. The Brandenburg polls don't indicate a change of the grand coalition there and will hopefully be notable mainly for the greens getting represented and the far-right taking an exit.
In Schleswig-Holstein, the Minister President Carstensen decided to break up his grand coalition with the SPD a few months ago, hoping to be able to secure a government with the more pliable FDP. And perhaps looking to influence the federal elections. The CDU has however also been losing ground in Schleswig-Holstein, and should Carstensen be unable to form a coalition with the FDP, the left parties will get an effective majority to block federal legislation in the Bundesrat. This, in turn, will inform negotiations after the elections. If there is no longer a majority for the CDU/CSU-FDP in the Bundesrat and only a narrow majority in the Bundestag, the argument within the christian democratic parties for a continuation of the 'grand' coalition with the SPD will become a lot more powerful.
|The Prussian House of Lords, seat of the Bundesrat. Source: de.wikipedia.org|
Fittingly, Schleswig-Holstein has its own troubles
(de) with overhang seats, which might mean that the parties will take the decision over the allocation of seats to court. This will further complicate calculations at the federal level.
Despite the article you could have read in DER SPIEGEL over the past four years, week after week, on the instability of the grand coalition and inquiet voices within the CDU and SPD, the coalition has held steady and is now not being dragged over the line in any sense. The 'election fight' is remarkably impersonal, and event in recent weeks ministers from the CDU/CSU and SPD have found opportunities (de) for being collegial.
Some of the fundamental reasons behind this are the CDU's clear majority in the Bundesrat, and the SPD's unwillingness to even consider a coalition with the Left Party at the federal level.
These conditions may change after the next elections even if there is another grand coalition. There is a decent possibility of more coalitions between the SPD and the Left Party at the state level, even in configurations where the SPD is the minority party. There is also a good chance that these coalitions will include the Greens. There are elections in Germany's most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia, in Spring 2010, and then there is a slew of state elections coming up in 2011, when there will also have to be a new electoral law.
Regardless of the next German government, there is a good opportunity that the future will bring more contention and less stability in the federal politics of Germany.