News Digest Item
25 Sep 2017

“A reckoning”

German newspapers on election impact on the political system

Parliamentary elections held Sunday resulted in a major setback for Germany’s two largest parties, the conservative union of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU/CSU as well as the Social Democrats (SPD), German media say after both parties suffered heavy losses. The two major mainstream parties, which have traditionally appealed to voters from all social backgrounds, were once again the country’s strongest political forces. But taken together, the votes they culled represent only slightly more than half of all voters, with 33 percent for the CDU/CSU and 20.5 percent for the SPD. Commentators regarded the result as a blow to the two parties’ grand coalition, which has governed the country for the past four years.

“The conservative union did it again,” Berthold Kohler writes for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. “They’ve become the German parliament’s strongest force,” but this victory is tarnished by the fact “that they were able to do so with the worst result since 1949,” Kohler says. The SPD, with its worst-ever election result in post-war Germany, immediately ruled out another grand coalition and instead said it would lead the parliamentary opposition, leaving the only option for Merkel “a forced marriage” with the economic liberal FDP and the Green Party, Kohler says.

The election result is “a reckoning for the established parties,” Sven Afhüppe says in the Handelsblatt. But Merkel not only incurred her worst result ever, “she especially lost the battle against the AfD,” Afhüppe argues. The party founded in 2013 will be “the first right-wing nationalist party with ethno-racialist features entering the German parliament since after the Second World War,” which to a large extent is down to Merkel’s asylum policy and her decision to temporarily open the borders in 2015. The country’s democracy is strong enough to deal with a right-wing party, “but it’s a devastating signal for Germany as an exporting nation,” Afhüppe says.

Sunday night has been the prelude to “Merkel’s endgame,” Kurt Kister writes in Süddeutsche Zeitung. The chancellor has “gone beyond the peak of her political existence,” he says, arguing that the conservatives could expect the same trajectory that the SPD has already been struggling with for the past decade – “the erosion of its traditional voter basis.” Merkel so far has managed to keep the conservative camp together, but the meagre result only is “a foretaste of what is to come in 2021” at the next general elections, he writes.

Merkel scored a “nightmare victory,” Ralf Schuler writes in the popular tabloid Bild Zeitung and suggests that forming a new government “will become more difficult than ever before.” Regardless of whether a coalition with the Greens and the FDP or a renewal of the grand coalition is in the offing, the chancellor will have to “make sure the coalition agreement contains as much pure conservative union content as possible.” The AfD’s success will reinvigorate the conservatives’ internal strife over how to cope with large numbers of asylum seekers and manage the integration of migrants, Schuler says. “As a weakened party leader, Merkel will have a hard time prevailing with her course.”

Germany’s parliament has “a cosmopolitan perspective” that debates the most pressing challenges for Germany and the wider world, Georg Löwisch writes in left-wing newspaper the Tageszeitung (taz). With the AfD, the parliament will now also host people “who see the world through the lens of the offended,” he argues. Germany’s parliament, the Bundestag, is “democracy’s nerve centre” and it can be paralysed by attacks from the inside, Löwisch says. “This has to be prevented,” he argues, calling on the other parties not to pick up any issue the AfD raises. “If the AfD frothes at the mouth in the Bundestag, the others have to react with the objectivity” of a county clerk, he says.

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