Thursday, September 19, 2013

German election Sunday, southern Europe's ordeal to continue

The national German elections for the Bundestag (lower house of Parliament) are on Sunday. Most of the polls show that Angela "Frau Fritz" Merkel's Christian Democratic (CDU) will win a plurality and that she will form the new government, either a continuation of her current "black-red" coalition (CDU and the Free Democrats, FDP) for a Grand Coalition with the Social Democratic Party (SDP) as a junior partner.

The best part of this scenario is that the neoliberal hack and corporate tool Peer Steinbrück, the SPD's stunningly uninspiring Chancellor candidate, has announced that he will renounce his leadership role in the SPD if he loses. That would leave Party Chairman Sigmar Gabriel to handle the coalition negotiations and presumably to assume the Vice Chancellor and Foreign Minister role in a Grand Coalition. (Veit Medick, Mögliches SPD-Bündnis mit Merkel: Gabriels Machtfrage Spiegel Online 17.09.2013)

Wolfgang Münchau in Schafft die Fünfprozenthürde ab! Spiegel Online 18.09.2013 looks at some of the likely combinations of post-election coalition strategies among the CDU, SPD, FDP, Greens, Left Party and AfD (Alternative für Deutschland, a hardcore rightwing anti-euro party). It's fascinating for poli sci geeks because it involves various parties and "second votes". If Chuck Todd had to explain what Münchau is talking about there, his head would very likely explode.

But that's not my main interest here. The two things I'll be watching for most closely on Sunday is how the AfD does - not getting the 5% they need to have Bundestag representation would be the preferable outcome - and how the Greens do. The Greens have recently been dropping in the polls, with the usual accompanying speculation about why. One likely reason is that Frau Fritz stole one of their favorite issues by committing her conservative government to the complete phase-out of nuclear power, an issue the Greens had owned for a long time. She may be happy to carry water for the financial industry and pretty much every other business lobby. But the nuclear-power lobby jacked her around when she was Environmental Minister and Angie hasn't forgotten. Or, alternatively, she decided a complete phase-out was a really good idea after the not-so-black-swam event of the Fukushima disaster. That was her official reason for adopting that policy. And it could be true. Even a committed conservative austerian like Angie isn't into the kind of reality-denial in which American conservatives pride themselves.

The Greens also decided that a parliamentary election year would be a good time to have extensive public discussions to analyze and repent for pedophiles who associated themselves with the Green Party in its early days in the 1980s. We're not talking about Party officials who molested children at day-care facilities. It's that in the early life of the Green Party it was a fairly loosely-structured organization, and some pedophiles tried to use the party as a vehicle to loosen laws designed to protect children from people like them. The Party got it together pretty quickly and excluded such advocates. It's admirable and in keeping with the Green Party principles that they would want to understand and account for failings of the past.

But we're also not talking here about something like the Catholic Church abuse scandals, where the institution itself was knowingly protecting child abusers, rapists and criminals and even giving them new opportunities to prey on children. It's basically an issue of whether the national party was rigorous enough in the way it screened local Green Party candidates three decades ago. Given that the them is both sensational and has a high "ick" factor, it's hard to fathom why they picked a national election year to highlight discussion of the Green Party and pedophilia. If any conventional political advantage has come to them because of it, it would be that it also drew attention to the fact that the FDP also had a history in the 1980s of some of its affiliated members advocating for similar changes in law that pedophiles wanted. (Liberalismus: FDP war gegenüber Pädophilen toleranter als bislang bekannt Spiegel Online 01.09.2013) One FDP Bundestag candidate withdrew her candidacy when the press got wind that as a 19-year-old in 1980 she published an article describing an intimate relationship with a 13-year-old girl in a book of essays titled Pädophilie heute (Pedophilia Today), which advocated for legalizing sex between adults and children. (FDP-Politikerin zieht Kandidatur zurück Die Zeit 10.08.2013)

Like I said, the Ick Factor is strong on this issue.

It's been a sad election season in Germany. Frau Fritz' austerity policies have led to immense economic suffering in Cyprus, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain. They have made actually saving the euro and even the European Union itself far more difficult, the former likely impossible. This is a year in which serious challenges to an incumbent German government's economic policies were seriously, urgently needed. Instead the SPD puts forward a poor candidate who has consistently supported Frau Fritz' damaging, reckless austerity policies for euro crisis countries. Münchau has previously noted that the Greens and the Left Party are the only two parties whose campaign programs address the euro crisis in a meaningful, constructive way. But the Greens have also supported Merkel's disastrous euro policies, if with a bit more grumbling about how they weren't perfect that the SPD has usually managed. And they decided this would be a good year to highlight their repentance for their past in relation to (gulp!) pedophilia, a topic that most voters would likely never have noticed had the Greens not taken the initiative to do so.

Another possible coalition after Sunday would be a red-red-green coalition (SPD, Left Party, Greens) but the SPD and Steinbrück have been ruling out that possibility so far.

Another poli-sci-geek point in Münchau's article is that he is recommending scrapping the current proportional representation system in German elections in favor of relying on individual mandates. Which sounds like he is advocating something like the British system which would create strong pressure for a two-party system. Not a proposal likely to get much traction in Germany in the foreseeable future, I would guess.

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