The federal elections in Germany produced a clear winner: Angela Merkel.
The German chancellor and her Christian Democratic Union party, together with its Bavarian sister-party the Christian Social Union, won 41.5 percent of the vote and missed an absolute majority in parliament by only five seats.
The Social Democratic Party reached its second worst result in history with 25.7 percent, while the radical Left party dropped to 8.6 percent and the Green Party fell to 8.4 percent.
The CDU/CSU’s former coalition partner, the FDP, will not be represented in the German parliament for the first time in its 75-year history. At 4.8 percent of the votes, the Liberal Democrats did not exceed the “5 percent hurdle” required to join the Bundestag – a threshold that was introduced following the negative experience during the Weimar Republic which saw dozens of splinter groups disrupt parliamentary process.
For the liberals, the Sunday election result came as a shock, but hardly a surprise. For months, the only unresolved question was whether the FDP would get enough votes to maintain the status quo, as a junior partner of the Christian Democrats in government.
Hovering around the 5 percent mark, after a historic 14.6 percent of the votes in the federal elections four years ago, their election campaign lacked verve. In the final weeks, the FDP campaign slogan turned to a limp “vote FDP, if you want Merkel.” This modest, self-belittling approach riled not only party members, it also failed to convince voters who defected in droves and preferred to vote for the real thing.
As a coalition partner, the FDP historically tempered the conservatism of the Christian Democrats and the socialism of the Social Democrats. In past years, however, the party did not present a clear profile; some even claim it betrayed liberalism. In economic policy the party followed neoliberal ideas that appeared either undefined or focused on small interest groups; most importantly, rather than keeping the senior partner in check, it tended to position itself either in the same way or farther to the right than the policies of the CDU.
In surveys, only 3 percent of German voters believed the FDP had any economic competence and this despite its party leader, Philipp Rösler, occupying the position of minister with responsibility for the economy.
Germany’s comparatively strong economy is instead widely regarded as the result of Angela Merkel’s crisis management. The German chancellor has an uncanny ability to stymie dissent in her own party and to deflect any negative aspects of her reign as a mere consequence of a coalition government.
Her own election campaign was focused solely on her personality and steady leadership amid the economic turmoil of the euro crisis.
This was sufficient for Mrs. Merkel to become just the third postwar chancellor to win three consecutive elections.
Just shy of an absolute majority, the German chancellor still has to secure a new coalition partner. This is conceivably going to be the Social Democratic Party or less likely the Green Party. But neither party comes from a position of strength and will be acutely aware of Mrs. Merkel’s tendency to crush partners and opponents alike.
Where the FDP struggled with liberalism, the Green Party, on a platform of environmentalism, did not manage to articulate policy initiatives that could build its supporter base. The Social Democrats in turn added 2.7 percent to their last election result, but it remained their second worst showing in history.
Germany’s left is fractioned. In theory a coalition of SPD, The Left and Greens is possible but a partnership with the more radical Left was ruled out prior to the election by both the Social Democrats and the Greens.
Whoever the CDU’s coalition partner is going to be, the Christian Democrats will have to make compromises. Some of these are not palatable. The SPD, for instance, demands an extensive minimum wage and the Greens tax increases.
If neither the Green Party nor the SPD make themselves available as a partner in government, a reelection would be triggered. Yet such a reelection is not in the interest of either party, because it would most likely give Mrs. Merkel an even larger majority.
Voters have expressed a clear preference. Similar to 1957, when Konrad Adenauer won 50.2 percent of the votes, the largest margin in Germany’s post-war election history, Germans voted for a simple message.
Adenauer’s slogan at the time was: “No experiments.”