Election officials released provisional results overnight in both the federal Germany election to determine the makeup of the lower house of Germany’s parliament, the Bundestag, and the Hessian state elections.
Here’s where things stand in the total national ‘party vote’:
As predicted by exit polls earlier Sunday, neither the new eurosceptic party, the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD, Alternative for Germany) nor the longtime liberal Freie Demokratische Partei (FDP, Free Democratic Party) won more than 5% of the vote — meaning that they have not won any seats in the Bundestag.
The final total won by chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands (CDU, Christian Democratic Party) — together with the Bavarian Christlich-Soziale Union in Bayern (CSU, the Christian Social Union) — comes to 41.5%. That’s exactly the same percentage that the CDU/CSU and chancellor Helmut Kohl won in the 1994 German elections, and it’s just 2.3% less than Kohl’s total in the 1990 elections, which came in the aftermath of the largely successful reunification of West Germany with East Germany. It’s an absolutely huge win for Merkel — but we already knew that as polls closed Sunday.
Here’s a look at how Sunday’s election result compared to the previous elections in September 2009:
There are no absolutely clear winners except the CDU/CSU, which improved on its 2009 totals by a staggering 7.8% — including a nearly 1% improvement by the CSU (which is pretty incredible, given that the CSU seeks votes solely in Bavaria, home to just 12.5 million of Germany’s 80 million residents).
The FDP obviously had a disastrous result — the party’s worst result in Germany’s postwar history, which comes after its postwar high of 14.6% just four years ago. Both leading FDP figure and economics and technology minister Rainer Brüderle, party leader and vice chancellor Philipp Rösler and former party leader (until 2011) and foreign minister Guido Westerwelle are all likely to step aside from their top leadership positions.
The center-left Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD, Social Democratic Party) improved slightly on its 2009 result, which was a postwar low for the party under chancellor candidate Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who served as foreign minister in the 2005-09 CDU/SPD ‘grand coalition’ government. But the SPD’s performance under its 2013 candidate Peer Steinbrück, who served as Merkel’s grand coalition finance minister, was its second-worst result in postwar German history.
Die Grünen (the Greens) also suffered a retreat from its 2009 totals and especially from polls in 2011 that showed them winning between 20% and 25% of the vote. The poor result follows an unfocused campaign with at least four different leaders. The Green platform swung from promoting ‘Veggie Day’ to advocating tax increases, despite the fact that its electorate is becoming more moderate, less radical, older and wealthier.
Die Linke (the Left) appears to have retained its traditional strength as the second-most popular party in the eastern states (second to Merkel’s CDU), but it has also lost support since 2009. Though its leaders were crowing that it will be the third-largest party in the Bundestag for the first time since reunification, the CDU appears to have made significant inroads into the Left’s eastern heartland.
Though the AfD had a superb performance, it obviously fell 0.3% short of entering the Bundestag and, while it will work hard to retain relevance in next spring’s European elections, it’s difficult to tell if it can retain and grow its strength between now and 2017.
Here’s the breakdown of the seats in the Bundestag — due to so-called ‘overhang seats’ resulting from the way in which additional seats are allocated to bring seat totals in line with the ‘party vote,’ there are 630 seats:
With 311 seats, Merkel is five seats short of an absolute majority. Without the option of her previous coalition partner, the FDP, it means that she has three options:
- A minority government. In this scenario, Merkel would look to support from opposition members on an ad hoc basis, as her government has become accustomed with respect to the upper house of the German parliament, the Bundesrat, where the CDU controls just 15 of 69 votes. But Merkel indicated late Sunday that she prefers that Germany have a majority government — and she probably prefers to have a cushion of support from either the SPD or the Greens, both of which are staunchly pro-Europe, unlike some of the more eurosceptic members of her own party and within the CSU.
- A ‘grand’ coalition. This remains the most likely outcome, and it would help Merkel pass legislation through the Bundesrat. The problem is that Merkel needs five seats, not 192, and a grand coalition would constitute nearly 80% of the entire Bundestag! Conservative hardliners, especially within the CSU, may also balk at granting the kind of concessions (and cabinet ministries) the SPD would require. There’s also a sense that becoming Merkel’s junior partner in 2005 did the SPD no favors with the German electorate in 2009, so a second Merkel-led grand coalition would likely be much more acrimonious, and the SPD would draw contrasts at every turn — and to move for early elections once the SPD’s popularity improves. Furthermore, another grand coalition could divide the SPD — at both the leadership and rank-and-file level. Steinbrück is on record as opposing another grand coalition, but SPD party chair Sigmar Gabriel has been more open to the idea, and it’s Gabriel who will be in the driver’s seat for any coalition talks with Merkel.
- A ‘black-green’ coalition. I’ve always thought this makes the most intuitive sense — though it would require a leap of faith from both the Greens and from Merkel. The Greens would have an opportunity to showcase their pragmatism and centrist credentials, and Merkel could probably strike a better deal, both in terms of policy and personnel, with the Greens than with the SPD. State-level precedents in Saarland and Hamburg aren’t exactly promising, but two precedents don’t necessarily forecast how a federal partnership would turn out. The major policy difference between the two parties was resolved in 2011 when Merkel announced, in a policy shift, that Germany would phase out its nuclear power. Leftist leaders in the Green Party balk at the idea of partnering with Merkel, but other leaders have already indicated they’re interested in discussing the possibility, and finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble indicated the CDU/CSU would explore coalitions with both the SPD and the Greens.
Together, the SPD, Green and the Left hold 319 seats — that’s enough to form a coalition, but don’t count on it. Polls showed throughout the campaign that Germans preferred Merkel to Steinbrück as chancellor by a nearly two-to-one margin, so German voters would be unhappy to find that an election that was a huge mandate for Merkel could result in a Steinbrück-led government. Moreover, the SPD has refused to join forces in the past with the Left, because of the Left’s much more radical socialism and its roots in the remnants of the former East German communist party. While that could change, it’s hard to see how a three-party coalition with a four-seat majority that attempts to bridge the gap from centrist moderates to radical communists would govern very long — or with any credibility.
Meanwhile, in Hesse, CDU minister-president Volker Bouffier has renewed hope today that he can hold onto power after the FDP only narrowly won 5% of the vote, allowing it to return to the state parliament, the Landtag:
That’s great news for both the state CDU and the FDP, given that exit polls showed the Free Democrats would not win 5% and, therefore, not enough support to return to the Landtag.
The breakdown of seats in the 110-member parliament, though, shows how difficult the task is for either Bouffier or for Hessian SPD leader Thorsten Schäfer-Gümbel:
Together, the current ‘black-yellow’ CDU/FDP coalition won 43.3% of the vote and will hold 53 seats — just three seats short of a majority. That means Bouffier will face essentially the same options in Hesse’s Landtag that Merkel faces in the federal Bundestag — attempt a minority government, attempt a grand coalition with the SPD, or attempt an unprecedented black-green coalition.
The alternative potential ‘red-green’ SPD/Green coalition won 41.8% and will hold 51 seats. But together with the Left, the three leftist and center-left parties won 47% of the vote and hold a two-seat majority with 57 seats. Schäfer-Gümbel could attempt to form either a three-way coalition or a ‘red-green’ coalition that draws on informal support from the Left (which would remain outside the coalition as a formal matter). That’s difficult, however, given that Andrea Yspilanti tried the same approach after the 2008 elections, which resulted in an internal SPD revolt, her resignation as SPD leader and snap elections a year later that saw a 13% swing away from the SPD.
Given that Bouffier was adamant on Sunday that he would push to remain in power, the most likely outcome might well be another grand coalition — five out of Germany’s 16 states are currently governed by similar state-level CDU/SPD coalitions. But four of those grand coalitions are in the eastern states where the CDU and SPD have teamed up against the Left. The only current state-level grand coalition in western Germany is in tiny Saarland.