maandag, september 19, 2005

German election results: Reasons to be cheerful

It's 'the worst of all worlds', according to a pantywaist BBC analysis of the deadlock between the SPD and the CDU in the German election: Christian Democrats won 35.3 per cent of the vote; the Social Democrats 34.2 per cent; the Free Democrats 9.8 per cent, the Linkspartei 8.6 per cent and the Greens 8.1 per cent. Now 'nothing will change'. 'Four more years of empty pockets, that's what it'll mean. Mark my words,' says a Russian émigré CDU supporter, quoted by the BBC's Clare Murphy.

And indeed, the
markets seem to agree with him: The Dax index lost two per cent in early trading, and the euro fell to a month low against the US dollar.

Even the 'liberal' media are offering up a pre-packaged consensus for the populace to swallow: No matter where you stand politically, we had to move forward, and this is a recipe for further paralysis and even instability, thus it would have been better for one or party or the other to have won outright. Of course, the only party they're actually thinking should have won outright is the CDU. Similar chicken-little bleatings would be heard had the SPD won outright.

Reasons to be cheerful

Well, enough with these blinkered neo-liberal Cassandras. For Christ's sake, the left won this election! The left won clean and clear - a remarkable achievement given that Merkel's CDU and the CDU's Bavarian sister part, the CSU, began the election with a 21 per cent lead on the SPD. Together, the broad (in the broadest of definitions of the word broad) left - between the SPD, Linkspartei and the Greens - won 50.9 per cent of the vote, while the right won 45.1 per cent.

Although more than a third of the population either supports the CDU's proposed structural adjustment or has been suckered into voting for them simply for the sake of change, we can see that when the electorate is told exactly what this change means - a flat tax, in particular - that support dissolves like
rat turds in a vat of chocolate. The CDU actually won three percentage points fewer than they did in 2002 - one of the party's worst results ever. The election shows an utter rejection of the flat tax and an embrace of the continental social model. (It also exposes the idiocy of the CDU's honesty in the electoral campaign. They forgot the golden rule of campaigning: social democrats must mutter something about social justice and then rule from the right once in office, and conservatives must just shut up lest anyone figure out what they're actually going to do and then rule from the right once in office)

Apart from any other reasons to be cheerful, the main one is that that grim fatty giblet of a gift to the rich, the flat tax, now cannot be implemented in this parliament, as now readily concede
investors who had earlier been as rigid with excitement as pubescent thirteen-year-old boys at the prospect.

Furthermore, the Linkspartei did as well or better than hoped, and came from nowhere to become fourth biggest party in country. They would have been third biggest, but CDU seems to have lost ground to the Free Democrats from centrist voters possibly scared about the flat tax and who were under the mistaken impression that the FDP are closer to the centre. The far left can no longer be dismissed as a fringe concern that only attracts middle class university students and 1968 nostalgics with poor personal hygiene: Across Europe (the Linkspartei in Germany, the LCR and the rest of the Gauche du Non in France, the Left Bloc in Portugal, the Scottish Socialists and Respect in the UK, the PRC in Italy, the Socialist Party and Groen Links in the Netherlands, and, to some extent, Izquierda Unida in Spain), some fifteen years after the welcome demise of Stalinism, a new, liberatory socialism has become a legitimate electoral alternative and inconstant, faithless social democracy is in its death throes.

The CDU will most likely form a coalition with the SPD. For the left, this is in fact the best of all possible results (given that the Linkspartei did not have a chance of winning the election this time around), as the 'reforms' will not be as harsh as expected because SPD will want to burnish its left credentials and distinguish itself from CDU. However, the SPD leadership remains committed to structural adjustment, and so will continue to support unpopular reforms (which will bring nothing but further misery - as neo-liberal adjustment has done in Latin America). This will continue to result in disillusion with the SPD amongst traditional and union supporters who are already sympathetic towards the Linkspartei. There is even a good possibility that the SPD will split over the reforms.

A similar effect will happen if Schroeder manages to form a so-called traffic-light coalition (red, yellow, green) with the FDP and Greens. Schroeder will still march ahead with his reforms, even if they are not as thoroughgoing as they would be under a straight SPD-CDU coalition, and the SPD will still be racked by an internal turmoil from which the Linkspartei can only benefit.

Finally, even the Greens should be happy with the result. They may have lost some prestige and dropped into fifth place, but their end result is not markedly different from previous years and they didn't lose as many votes to the Linkspartei as some had predicted. This is perhaps somewhat predictable, as Green supporters are a largely middle-class bunch for whom structural adjustment and labour reforms are not as much of a concern as baby seals and fair trade deodorant anyway.

The CDU cannot form a government on its own (or with the FDP) and either of the coalitions that are possible - CDU-SPD or SDP-FDP-Greens - will benefit the left.

I really don't see how it could have gone any better.

** Update: Meaders makes a what should be the rather obvious point that the likes of the BBC seem to have missed:

'[that] the biggest single story emerging from the German poll is that the radical left have not only established a firm base across both east and west Germany, but have forced the German political establishment into its gravest crisis at least since reunification.'

He also calls the Greens 'little more than the FDP with windfarms', a turn of phrase I quite like.

And Dear Kitty has some slightly different figures (with slightly more for the FDP). I suppose there will be some movement a bit here and there over the coming days as the all the votes are counted, and, of course the delayed votes in Dresden. DK also has a class breakdown of Linke voters. Fun fact: a full quarter of unemployed workers voted Linkspartei.