Sunday, September 27, 2009

German Result

The results of today's German general election are in. The Christian Democrats (CDU), for the second consecutive time, will be the largest party in the Bundestag, the lower house of the German parliament. The difference is that, this time, the CDU and the Free Democrats (FDP), the preferred coalition partner of the CDU, together have enough seats to form a coalition government. By contrast, after the 2005 election, the CDU was forced into a "grand coalition" with the second-largest party, the center-left Social Democrats (SPD).

The reports so far, largely based on exit polls, show a slim majority for a CDU/FDP coalition, but most media outlets seem to believe that the result will hold.

The German Federal Republic (BRD, in German) is 60 years old. It constituted the government of West Germany from 1949 to 1990, and of all Germany since then. During those years, the most common form of government has been a CDU/FDP coalition, most recently from 1982 to 1998, with Helmut Kohl as chancellor (head of government).

Now, the current chancellor, Angela Merkel of the CDU, will head such a coalition. It will be her first time at the head of a center-right government.

The SPD, in part because a breakaway faction has combined with eastern German ex-communists to form a new Left Party, has made its worst showing in the history of BRD elections.

Germany will join France and Italy as major European powers with center-right governments. And the United Kingdom is expected to follow suit by next June. It will be interesting to see whether that results in economic reforms, especially as recovery continues from the recent recession.

One major issue is whether they will loosen regulation of labor markets, which many believe has been the main cause for unemployment rates in continental Europe that, even in economic boom times, have been higher than in the U.S. and Britain.

Angela Merkel is personally popular in her country, with poll ratings that exceed those for her party as a whole. She lacks charisma. The same can be said of those most prominent among the other CDU chancellors, Kohl and Konrad Adenauer. That may well be a backlash in reaction to Germany's experience with the man who was arguably the most charismatic politician of all time, Adolf Hitler.

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