Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Proportional Representation 4: Party on, Konrad!

Adenauer, that is.

If pure proportional representation leads to a multi-party system, and the lack thereof accords with a two-party system, what would you expect from the hybrid German electoral structure that I described here?

The answer is what you'd probably expect. There are two dominant parties, but there are three other significant parties, as well. Almost the entire post-World War II political history of, first, West Germany, then the reunified Germany, has involved coalition governments.

The party that led the first government of the Federal Republic of Germany (BRD, in German), and that leads the current government, is the Christian Democratic Union (CDU). There is a separate party in Bavaria, called the Christian Social Union (CSU), that is in permanent coalition with the CDU.

Konrad Adenauer was the first leader of the CDU, and the first chancellor (head of government) of the BRD, when it was founded in 1949. He was 73 when he took office, and was nicknamed "Der Alte", "The Old Man". He was a party animal in the political sense, if not the celebratory sense.

The main opposition was the Social Democratic Party (SPD, in German). That party had existed before the Nazi regime. It traces its earliest incarnation to 1863, which predated the original unification of Germany in 1871.

A smaller third party, the Free Democratic Party (FDP), which was founded in 1948, has been a significant political force throughout the history of the BRD. The FDP has at various times played junior partner in coalition governments with both of the larger parties.

The SPD started its post-World War II existence very much on the left. It moved closer to the center, starting in 1959. That change paved its way to power, first as part of a "grand coalition" with the CDU/CSU from 1966-9, and then as the leading party in a coalition with the FDP from 1969-82.

The CDU/CSU can basically be characterized as a center-right party. Its first period in government, from 1949-66 (alone from 1957-61, and in coalition with the FDP and others during the remainder of that period), was mainly characterized by the free-market policies that produced the Wirtschaftswunder (economic miracle) that took West Germany from devastation in the late 1940s to being an economic powerhouse by the 1960s.

The FDP has been consistently characterized as a "liberal" party. That word is used in the European sense, which is somewhat similar to what we call "libertarian" in the U.S. Free-market economics have always been a key part of FDP policy.

The CDU/CSU led a coalition with the FDP from 1982-98. That government maintained some of the more left-wing policies of the previous SPD/FDP coalition, and had a less free-market orientation than the earlier center-right governments.

Two new left-wing parties emerged during that period.

The Green Party was founded in 1979. Since 1993, it has been known as Alliance '90/The Greens, having merged with Alliance '90, which was one of the parties that contested the only free election in East Germany, in 1990. Environmental issues are the core of its platform. It also found some room on the left on other issues, after the SPD had become a more centrist party.

In 1983, the Greens passed the threshold for representation in the Bundestag, wihch I described here. They governed in coalition with the SPD from 1998 to 2005.

The Marxist-Leninist party that had run the one-party East German state from 1949 to 1990, which was called the Socialist Unity Party, transformed itself into a left-wing democratic party called the Party of Democratic Socialism. It has since merged with a leftist breakaway group from the SPD, to form the Left Party. They were the fourth largest party in the Bundestag, following the 2005 federal election, ahead of the Greens.

That 2005 election produced a near-tie between the CDU/CSU and the SPD. The only workable solution has been the second "grand coalition" government, combining the CDU/CSU with the SPD. Angela Merkel of the CDU is chancellor in that government, the first woman, and the first person who had lived in East Germany, to hold that office.

So to summarize: Germany's hybrid system of proportional representation combined with single-member constituency elections has produced a multi-party system usually dependent on coalition governments. But it is not as wildly multi-party as Israel, with its pure proportional representation.

The Germans have pretty much achieved their post-World War II goal of stable politics, in contrast to their weak governments in the interwar period. It seems that most Germans see the grand coalition model as being problematic, but a necessary evil given the current state of the parties.

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