Tag Archives: green

Kraft steps down as NRW result gives boost to Merkel’s fourth-term hopes

Hannelore Kraft will step down as the regional leader of the Social Democratic Party in North Rhine-Westphalia after leading the state’s government for seven years. (Facebook)

There’s no way for the German left to sugarcoat Sunday’s regional election result in North Rhine-Westphalia.

It’s the clearest sign yet that after flirting with Martin Schulz earlier this year, German voters are coming back to Angela Merkel and the center-right Christlich Demokratische Union (CDU, Christian Democratic Union).

North Rhine-Westphalia is Germany’s most populous state, and it’s one of the industrial and technological heartlands of Europe. It’s a relatively left-leaning state — since 1966, the only CDU leader to run the state’s government was Jürgen Rüttgers, from 2005 to 2010. Moreover, it’s the state where Schulz, the SPD’s chancellor candidate for this September’s federal elections, grew up. It’s home to 17.8 million of Germany’s 82 million-plus population. So four months before the national election, NRW has as more predictive power than you might typically expect for a state election, considering that its electorate equals just over one-fifth of the electorate that will decide the national government in September.

It’s too soon to guarantee that Merkel will win a fourth consecutive term, even with the decisive victory last weekend — the third and most important CDU win in three state elections this year. But the result is a clear sign that Schulz’s center-left Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD, Social Democratic Party) is struggling to connect with working-class voters who are turning increasingly to alternatives from the anti-immigrant right to the protectionist left to the reassuring stability of the Merkel-era CDU. Indeed, the CDU campaigned throughout the spring on the notion that Merkel and her allies amounted to a ‘safe pair of hands.’ Continue reading Kraft steps down as NRW result gives boost to Merkel’s fourth-term hopes

Merkel may be down, but don’t rule her out for a fourth term just yet

merkel
Germany’s chancellor since 2005, Angela Merkel is widely believed to be preparing to seek fourth term in the 2017 federal elections. (Facebook)

It’s entirely possible that September 2016 marks the worst month of German chancellor Angela Merkel’s career.Germany Flag Iconmecklenburg-vorpommern berlin

Merkel’s center-right party, the Christlich Demokratische Union (CDU, Christian Democratic Union) fell to third place in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, a relatively low-population state of just 1.6 million that sprawls along the northern edge of what used to be East Germany. While the center-left Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD, Social Democratic Party) has been traditionally stronger there in elections since reunification, two factors made the CDU’s loss particularly embarrassing. The first is that it’s the state that Merkel has represented since her first election in 1990 shorly after German reunification. The second, and more ominous, is that the CDU fell behind the eurosceptic, anti-refugee Alternative für Deutschland (Afd, Alternative for Germany), a relatively new party founded in 2013 that today holds seats in 10 of Germany’s 16 state assemblies and that, according to recent polls, will easily win seats in the Bundestag in next September’s federal elections.

mecklenburg_vorpommern-2016 mecklenburg-landtag

Two weeks later, on September 18, Merkel’s CDU also suffered losses in Berlin’s state election. As left-wing parties have long dominated Berlin’s politics, and the SPD placed first and Germany’s Die Linke (the Left) and Die Grünen (the Greens) placed third and fourth behind the CDU. But even in Berlin, the AfD still won 14.2% of the vote.

berlin-2016 berlin-assembly

Taken together, the state election results forced a mea culpa from Merkel on Monday. The chancellor, who is expected (though by no means certain) to seek a fourth consecutive term next year, departed from the calm, steely confidence that since last summer has characterized her commitment to accept and integrate over a million Syrian refugees within Germany’s borders. Merkel admitted, however, that she would, if possible, rewind the clock to better prepare her country and her government for the challenge of admitting so many new migrants, and she admitted lapses in her administration’s communications. With the AfD showing no signs of abating, it’s clear that its attacks on Merkel’s open-door policy are working. Merkel’s statement earlier this week admitted that her policies have not unfolded as smoothly as she’d hoped.

* * * * *

RELATED: Can Hillary Clinton become America’s Mutti?

* * * * *

Indeed, German polls are starting to show that voters are souring on Merkel and her approach to migration, so much that in one poll in August for Bild, a majority of voters no longer support a fourth term for Merkel. All of which has led to hand-wringing both in Germany and abroad that Merkel’s days are numbered.

Don’t believe it. Continue reading Merkel may be down, but don’t rule her out for a fourth term just yet

Kretschmann wins big in Germany’s prosperous south

Germany's only Green minister-president, Winfried Kretschmann, has won widespread in conservative Baden-Württemberg. (Facebook)
Germany’s only Green minister-president, Winfried Kretschmann, has won widespread in conservative Baden-Württemberg. (Facebook)

The largest headline of Germany’s slate of state elections today will be the rising success of the eurosceptic, anti-immigrant Alternative für Deutschland (AfD, Alternative for Germany).baden wuttermergGermany Flag Icon

But it really shouldn’t be.

Even at the height of anti-refugee sentiment, the AfD that won no more than 23% of the vote in any state, and it will not come close to holding power in any of those states.

Meanwhile, Winfried Kretschmann surged to what should almost certainly mean reelection as minister-president in Baden-Württemberg, a sprawling and prosperous state in southwestern Germany, home to 10.6 million people (Germany’s third-most populous). With a rich industrial heritage in and around Stuggart, the state is home to Daimler, Porsche and software manufacturer SAP, and it currently has Germany’s lowest unemployment rate (4.0%). 

Kretschmann came to office in 2011 through something of a fluke, when his party, Die Grünen (The Greens), narrowly outpaced its center-left coalition partner, the Sozialdemokratische  Partei Deutschlands (SPD, the Social Democratic Party). Together, the two parties managed to win more support than the center-right Christlich Demokratische Union (CDU, Christian Democratic Union), the party of Germany’s powerful chancellor Angela Merkel, and a party that had long dominated a thrifty state of southern German conservatism, ruling almost without interruption for 60 years. The SPD may have withered to the point where Kretschmann will need to find a new governing coalition. But in 2016, for the first time in the postwar period, the CDU wasn’t the first-placed party, falling behind the Greens. That’s due in part to the AfD’s rise, siphoning votes from the CDU, but it also has to do with the wildly popular Kretschmann. Continue reading Kretschmann wins big in Germany’s prosperous south

Suffragio’s live-blog of Canada’s French-language leaders debate

frenchdebate

Earlier this evening, I live-blogged the third debate among Canada’s major party leaders. It was the first French-language debate and the only one (so far) to include all five leaders: Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, New Democratic Party leader Thomas Mulcair, Green leader Elizabeth May and the pro-independence Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe.Canada Flag IconQuebec Flag Iconpng

In Depth: Canada’s general election

toronto

With prime minister Stephen Harper’s decision to call an election last week, Canada has now launched into a 13-week campaign that ends on October 19, when voters will elect all 338 members of the House of Commons, the lower house of the Canadian parliament.Canada Flag Icon

By American standards, where Republican presidential candidates will gather for their first debate nearly six months before a single vote is cast (for the nomination contest, let alone the general election) a 13-week campaign is mercifully short. In Canada, however, it’s twice as long as the most recent campaigns and, indeed, longer than any official election campaign since the late 1800s. But the major party leaders have already engaged in one debate — on August 6.

Plenty of Harper’s critics suggest the long campaign is due to the fundraising advantage of his center-right Conservative Party. Harper, who came to power with minority governments after the 2006 and 2008 elections and who finally won a majority government in 2011, is vying for a fourth consecutive term. He’ll do so as the global decline in oil prices and slowing Chinese demand take their toll on the Canadian economy, which contracted (narrowly) for each of the last five months.

Energy policy and the future of various pipeline projects (such as Energy East, Kinder Morgan, Northern Gateway and the more well-known Keystone XL) will be top issues in British Columbia and Alberta. Economic growth and a new provincial pension program will be more important in Ontario. Sovereignty and independence will, as usual, play a role in Québec — though not, perhaps, as much as in recent years.

In reality, the battle lines of the current election have been being drawn since April 2013, when the struggling center-left Liberal Party, thrust into third place in the 2011 elections, chose Justin Trudeau — the son of former Liberal prime minister Pierre Trudeau of the 1970s and 1980s — as its fifth leader in a decade. Trudeau’s selection immediately pulled the Liberals back into first place in polls, as Liberals believed his pedigree, energy and sometimes bold positions (Trudeau backs the full legalization of marijuana use, for example) would restore their electoral fortunes.

Nevertheless, polls suggest* that two years of sniping from Harper about Trudeau’s youth and inexperience have taken their toll. The race today is a three-way tie and, since the late spring, it’s the progressive New Democratic Party (NDP) that now claims the highest support, boosted from the NDP’s landslide upset in Alberta’s May provincial election. (*Éric Grenier, the self-styled Nate Silver of Canadian numbers-crunching, is running the CBC poll tracker in the 2015 election, but his ThreeHundredEight is an indispensable resource).

With the addition of 30 new ridings (raising the number of MPs in Ottawa from 308 to 338) and with the three parties so close in national polls, it’s hard to predict whether Canada will wake up on October 20 with another Tory government or a Liberal or NDP government. If no party wins a clear majority, Canada has far more experience with minority governments than with European-style coalition politics, and the Liberals and NDP have long resisted the temptation to unite.

Canadian government feels more British than American, in large part because its break with Great Britain was due more to evolution than revolution. Nevertheless, political campaigns have become more presidential-style in recent years, and the latest iteration of the Conservative Party (merged into existence in 2003) is imbued with a much more social conservative ethos than the older Progressive Conservative Party. The fact that polls are currently led by a left-of-center third party, the New Democratic Party (NDP), also demonstrates that the Canadian electorate, which benefits from a single-payer health care system, is willing to shift more leftward than typical American electorates.

Provincial politics do not often portend changes in federal politics, but the 2015 election is proving to be influenced by political developments in Alberta, Ontario, Québec, Manitoba and elsewhere, and many provincial leaders have not been shy about voicing their opinions about federal developments — most notably Ontario’s Liberal premier Kathleen Wynne.
Continue reading In Depth: Canada’s general election

LIVE BLOG: UK election results

London 2006 222

Throughout the night, Suffragio will be live-blogging the results of the United Kingdom’s general election to elect all 650 members of the House of Commons.United Kingdom Flag Icon

BBC Exit Poll
10:23 pm GMT, 5:23 pm ET

It hardly seems correct, but BBC’s exit polls have the Conservatives just short of a majority, winning nine additional seats from the current House of Commons. It’s a fabulous drop for Labour, a great night for the Scottish nationalists and a horrific bloodbath for the Liberal Democrats. Nonetheless, if the numbers are correct, it will put the Tories in pole position to form the next government. Ironically, though the Lib Dems are forecast, in this poll, to lose 46 of their 56 seats, they would, together with the Tories, be able to cobble a majority. This assumes that Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democratic leader and deputy prime minister, holds onto his seat in Sheffield Hallam, and will enter into a fresh coalition with the Conservatives.

Note that the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which currently holds eight seats, could give a new Tory/Lib Dem coalition an extra margin of comfort. Note that if Sinn Féin wins five seats (as in 2010), the Tories need only a 323-seat majority, not 326, because those MPs refuse to sit in Westminster.

Conservative Party — 325 (revised from 316)
Labour Party — 232 (revised from 239)
Scottish National Party — 56 (revised from 58)
Liberal Democrats — 12 (revised from 10)
United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) — 1 (revised from 2)
Green Party — 1 (revised from 2)

* * * * *

Morley and Outwood
8:20 am GMT, 3:20 ET

ed balls

Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor who attacked the Tories relentlessly over austerity, has lost his election. A longtime aide to former prime minister Gordon Brown from 1990 until his election to parliament in 2005, Balls finished third in the 2010 Labour leadership election behind the two Miliband brothers. That he’s lost his Leeds constituency is Labour’s chief ‘Portillo moment’ — the defenestration of one of the party’s potential new leaders. Notwithstanding Balls’s defeat, his wife, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper, remains a top contender to succeed Ed Miliband.

Conservative — 18,776 (17,264)
Labour — 18,354 (18,365)
UKIP — 7,951 (1,505)
LibDem — 1,426 (8,186)
Green — 1,264 (0)

* * * * *

Brighton Pavillion
7:54 am GMT, 2:54 ET

lucas

Caroline Lucas easily wins reelection, giving the Greens an important victory. The Green Party is now winning 3.7% of the vote nationally, but it will hold just this seat — Natalie Bennett, the party’s leader, who struggled at times during the campaign, finished third in the Holborn and St Pancras constituency. Nevertheless, it represents a huge leap forward for the Greens — a rise from the 0.9% it won in 2010.

Green — 22,871 (16,238)
Labour — 14,904 (14,986)
Conservative — 12,448 (12,275)
UKIP — 2,724 (948)
LibDem — 1,525 (7,159)

* * * * *
6:45 am GMT, 1:45 ET

I’m ending the live blog now. All three major party leaders are expected to address the public widely tomorrow, and there are still plenty of outstanding seats.

We’re still waiting for final results in Rochester & Strood, where UKIP MP Mark Reckless, a Tory convert, was expected to lose.

We’re also still waiting for South Thanet’s results, where Nigel Farage, the UKIP leader, has said he’ll resign as UKIP leader if he loses the constituency.

In Leeds, we’re still waiting for results from the Morley and Outwood constituency, where Labour’s shadow chancellor Ed Balls is in a tough fight — if he loses, Labour will lose a potential leadership candidate.

RELATED: The race to succeed Ed Miliband begins tonight

RELATED: Seven things to watch for in Cameron’s next government

* * * * *

Solihull
6:11 am GMT, 1:11 ET

This was a classic seat — the Liberal Democrats had to win this seat to retain even 30  seats. Instead, it lost it by a wide margin.

Conservative — 26,956 (2,746)
LibDem — 14,054 (23,635)
Labour — 5,693 (4,891)
UKIP — 6,361 (1,200)
Green — 1,632 (0)

* * * * * Continue reading LIVE BLOG: UK election results

In Depth: European Parliament

(43) EU parliamentary chamber

On the last full weekend of May, European voters in 28 member-states with a population of over 500 million will determine all 751 members of the European Parliament.European_Union

The political context of the 2014 parliamentary elections

Since the last elections in June 2009, the European Union has been through a lot of ups and downs, though mostly just downs. After the 2008-09 financial crisis, the eurozone went through its own financial crisis, as bond yields spiked in troubled Mediterranean countries like Greece, Spain, Italy and Portugal with outsized public debt, sclerotic government sectors and economies operating near zero-growth. Eastern European countries, facing sharp downturns themselves, and a corresponding drop in revenues, implemented tough budget cuts and tax increases to mollify bond markets. Ireland, which nationalized its banking sector, faced similar austerity measures. European Central Bank president Mario Draghi’s promise in the summer of 2012 to do ‘whatever it takes’ to maintain the eurozone marked the turning point, ending over two years of speculation that Greece and other countries might have to exit the eurozone. Many countries, however, are still mired in high unemployment and sluggish growth prospects.

One new member-state joined the European Union, Croatia, in July 2013, bringing the total number to 28, though Iceland, Serbia and Montenegro all became official candidates for future EU membership:

eu-members-2013

Politically speaking, since the 2009 elections, only two of the leaders in the six largest EU countries are still in power (Polish prime minister Donald Tusk, a centrist, and German chancellor Angela Merkel, a Christian democrat) reflecting a climate that’s been tough on incumbent governments. Spain and the United Kingdom took turns to the political right, and France and Italy took turns to the political left, but none of those governments seems especially popular today — and each of them will face a tough battle in the voting later this month.

Of course, that’s only if voters even bother to turn out. Since the European Parliament’s first elections in 1979, turnout has declined in each subsequent election — to just 43.23% in the latest 2009 elections:

EU turnoutAt the European level, the Treaty of Lisbon, a successor to the ill-fated attempt to legislate a European constitution in the mid-2000s, took effect in December 2009, scrambling the relationships among the seven institutions.

 The elections, which will unfold over four days between May 22 and May 25, are actually about much, much more than just electing the legislators of the European Union’s parliamentary body, which comprises just one of three lawmaking bodies within the European Union. Continue reading In Depth: European Parliament

LIVE BLOG: Can Merkel win an absolute majority?

Screen Shot 2013-09-22 at 12.48.24 PM

With results yet to come in, the first exit polls show that German chancellor Angela Merkel winning a huge mandate.Germany Flag Icon

Here’s the ZDF exit poll:

  • Merkel’s center-right Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands (CDU, Christian Democratic Party) and its Bavarian sister party Christlich-Soziale Union in Bayern (CSU, the Christian Social Union): 42.5%.
  • The center-left Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD, Social Democratic Party): 26.5%.
  • The democratic socialist Die Linke (the Left): 8.5%.
  • Die Grünen (the Greens): 8%.
  • Conservative, eurosceptic Alternative für Deutschland (AfD, Alternative for Germany): 4.8%.
  • Liberal Merkel coalition partner Freie Demokratische Partei (FDP, Free Democratic Party): 4.5%.

Let’s start with what we know.

How much of a victory is this for Merkel? It’s absolutely huge.

With 42.5% of the vote, Merkel’s CDU/CSU union would win just 1.3% less than Helmut Kohl won for the CDU/CSU in 1990 — and that was in the afterglow of reunification.

It looks like Peer Steinbrück will have led the SPD to a better result this year than Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the former foreign minister who led the SPD to win just 23% in the 2009 election.  It’s still not a great result for the SPD, and the exit polls show that the SPD didn’t actually narrow the gap in the final days as some pre-vote poll surveys had indicated.

Now let’s think about what’s still uncertain — it’s obvious that Merkel’s preferred coalition partner, the FDP, is struggling.  It would be the first time in Germany’s postwar period that the FDP fails to win enough seats to enter the Bundestag — their worst result was in 1969, when it won just 5.8% of the vote, and it follows their best-ever result from 2009 — 14.6%.  It’s been a spectacular collapse, and it’s hard to believe that Philipp Rösler’s leadership will survive very long.  There’s a lot of rebuilding ahead.

(Note that in Hesse, where state elections are being held, the FDP is falling short with just 4.8% as well.  While the CDU has won around 39%, the SPD is winning 31%, the Greens 10.5% and the Left 6% — and that means we could see another SPD-led attempt to govern with the support of the Left. Either way, it’s hard to see the current CDU/FDP coalition continuing to govern.  Here’s more on that race).

It’s still too soon to know whether the AfD or the FDP will win less than 5%.  But if they do, it’s conceivably possible for Merkel to win an absolute majority with just the seats of the CDU/CSU.  Thought 42.5% isn’t an absolute majority when the denominator is 100%, it comes very, very close when the denominator is 85.5% — the sum of the voter support of the four parties to clear the 5% hurdle.

If Merkel falls just a handful of seats short, and the FDP doesn’t enter the Bundestag, it may not be worth entering a coalition, but trying to govern with a very strong minority government.

Obviously, a ‘grand coalition’ with the SPD would be the most likely coalition, but as I’ve argued for weeks, a ‘black/green’ coalition between Merkel and the Greens has a lot of natural appeal.

* * * * *

Update, 13:51 ET.

So it seems pretty clear that the CDU/FDP coalition that governs Hesse will not be reelected.  But neither will the SPD/Green coalition have enough seats to control the Hessian Landtag.  That leaves the Left, which will win around eight seats, as the kingmaker — just as in 2008, when the SPD found itself in nearly the same situation.  When that happened in 2008, it led to a year of disorder that ultimately resulted in snap elections in 2009.  SPD leader Andrea Yspilanti faced an internal revolt when she tried to form a government with the support of the Left, and Hessian voters gave the SPD 13% less support in the 2009 elections.  This time around, we’ll have to see if Thorsten Schäfer-Gümbel, the new SPD leader in Hesse, can deliver a more graceful partnership with the Left.

Volker Bouffier, the CDU leader, will also likely try to determine if there’s space for a grand coalition or even a CDU-Green coalition in Hesse.

* * * * *

Update, 14:07 ET.

Even if Merkel wins an absolute majority of 300 seats in a 598-member Bundestag, there are a couple of good reasons why she might want to form a coalition with either the SPD or the Greens:

  • CSU hardliners.  With an ultra-thin majority, Merkel will not have a huge margin for victory.  That could risk pulling her further to the right.  Even if the AfD doesn’t make it into the Bundestag, Germany’s parliament already has a mildly eurosceptic party — the Bavarian CSU.  Top CSU leaders, including Bavarian finance minister Marcus Söder have called on Greece to leave the eurozone, which makes them about as eurosceptic as the AfD.  In a world where Merkel will want the flexibility to negotiate further bailouts for Greece, Portugal and other challenged European economies, and potentially a European banking union or greater fiscal control, she’ll want the support of a strong pro-European government.
  • Bundesrat considerations. With the likely loss in Hesse, the CDU/FDP will control just 10 seats in the Bundesrat, the upper house of the German parliament.  Leftists will control 41 seats, and CDU/SPD grand coalitions at the state level will control another 18 seats.  That means that Merkel will still have to look toward consensus in order to govern, and pulling either the SPD or the Greens into government could smooth the passage of legislation through the upper house.
  • Political calculation.  It may look like joining a coalition as Merkel’s junior partner is hazardous to your health as a political party.  The SPD, after four years in a grand coalition with Merkel, had a disastrous 2009 election and now the FDP, after four years in government, will leave the Bundestag altogether.  But a coalition with the Greens could make political sense for both the CDU and the Greens.  By separating the Greens from their traditional partners in government, Merkel could generate even more disunity on the German left.  But the Greens have had a difficult election — and there’s now evidence to show that they do better under a moderate, business-friendly platform (see the success of Winfried Kretschmann, the only Green minister-president, in the German state of Baden-Württemberg) than under the kind of leftist campaign — tax increases and advocating ‘veggie day’ — that the Greens ran in the federal 2013 campaign.  A turn to the center could really maximize the potential of the Greens in the 2017 election, and nothing could telescope that shift more than a partnership with Merkel that pulls Germany’s government ever so gently from the right to the center over the next four years.

Update, 15:58 ET.

Projections are now divided between showing the CDU/CSU with 295 seats, just short of a majority, and with 303 seats, just barely a majority:

Screen Shot 2013-09-22 at 3.52.18 PM

We’re obviously going to have to wait to know the final numbers.  Keep in mind also that there’s still a chance that the eurosceptic AfD could still sneak into the Bundestag.

 

 

Top German Green Party leader tagged with sensational sexual politics kerfuffle

tritten

The final weeks of the German election campaign have been marked by something less than substantive debate, what with the largest turn of events being center-left chancellor candidate Peer Steinbrück posing on the cover of a top news magazine giving German voters the bird.Germany Flag Icon

But with just six days to go until voting to determine the membership of the German Bundestag, the lower (and most important) house of its parliament, all eyes are on Jürgen Trittin and Die Grünen (the Greens) after a sensational story has put Trittin, a longtime Green leader, very much on the defensive.

The scandal involves a Green Party pamphlet from Göttingen in 1981 — just two years after the Greens formed as a political party — that Trittin approved and which called for the legalization of sex between minors and adults.  Trittin was a student at the time, one of five members of an editorial board that approved the manifesto, and claims not to have known the extent of the pamphlet.

Trittin, who served as the environmental minister in center-left chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s government between 1998 and 2005, today accepted full responsibility for the pamphlet and apologized for any minor role he played, which he claimed incorporated the stance of a radical gay rights group.

No one disputes the substantive content of the actual allegation, but it’s hard not to see the kerfuffle as a dirty trick against the Greens — family minister Kristina Schröder was quick to demand Trittin’s resignation, and other members of the center-right Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands (CDU, Christian Democratic Party) were also quick to attack Trittin and the Greens.  Alexander Dobrindt, the secretary-general of the CDU’s sister party in Bavaria, the Christlich-Soziale Union in Bayern (CSU, the Christian Social Union), called Trittin a front man for a ‘pedophilia cartel.’

Dobrindt himself is no stranger to controversy after calling on Greece to leave the eurozone last year during the heart of the eurozone’s financial crisis, and his CSU is the main force preventing the legislative adoption of marriage equality in Germany.

The CDU/CSU’s sanctimonious tone against Trittin is akin to demanding that Merkel to resign because of her now documented, minor involvement with the communist Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands (SED, Socialist Unity Party) as a young scientist in East Germany.  Even though Merkel had ties in her student days to the SED, so did most prominent East Germans, due to the nature of living in an authoritarian dictatorship in the 1970s and 1980s.  No one credibly believes that any minor collaboration should outweigh the role she played as a democratic activist in the late 1980s or doubt her legitimacy over two decades as a top policymaker in the reunified Germany.

But the Greens, which got their start as a radical leftist group and emerged from the new political movements of the 1970s, including the environmental movement, the pacifist movement and the sexual revolution, formally endorsed Germany’s anti-pedophilia laws in 1989.  The Green Party has been hit with charges of supporting pedophilia in the past, and it was Franz Walter, a political scientist investigation the party’s past affiliations with pedophile activists, who discovered to link to Trittin.

It’s also not difficult to understand why the CDU/CSU is brimming with such stern disapproval — the profile of the Green Party’s electorate has become older and wealthier over the past decade.  So if the latest scandal causes Green voters to think twice about their support (especially soft Green supporters), many of them will consider voting for the CDU or the CDU’s liberal junior coalition partner, the Freie Demokratische Partei (FDP, Free Democratic Party) instead of the center-left Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD, Social Democratic Party).  That’s important — while the CDU/CSU leads the SPD by between 12 and 16 points in most opinion polls, the FDP is winning around 5% in polls, which is the threshold for winning seats in the Bundestag on the basis of proportional representation.

So in a world where the Green vote collapses, it would be much better for Merkel if the SPD gains a few more votes, so long as the FDP gains a few more votes (at least enough to win 5% of the electorate).

Given the state of the campaign, the Greens have already been doing a pretty good job of confirming their own irrelevance.  If it’s been a horrible campaign season for the SPD and the FDP, it’s not been an easy one for the Greens.  Polls show the Greens winning between 9% and 11% of the vote, and markedly less than the 20% to 25% that polls showed the Greens winning in much of 2011 — after the Fukushima nuclear meltdown in Japan but before Merkel announced her support for phasing out Germany’s nuclear energy. Continue reading Top German Green Party leader tagged with sensational sexual politics kerfuffle

Bavarian elections provides Merkel, CSU a dress rehearsal for federal German vote

seehofer Exactly one week before Germans go to the polls to choose between center-right chancellor Angela Merkel and her center-left challenger Peer Steinbrück, Bavarian voters will elect its local state government in a key test for Merkel’s regional allies.Germany Flag Iconbavarian_flag_icon

The outcome isn’t incredibly doubtful because since 1947, Bavaria’s staunchly Catholic, business-friendly, socially conservative Christlich-Soziale Union in Bayern (CSU, the Christian Social Union) has controlled the 187-seat Landtag, the state legislature of Germany’s second-most populous state.

Given that the state has one of Germany’s — and Europe’s — best economies, the CSU looks set to strengthen its hold on Bavarian government in what amounts to a test run of many of the arguments that Merkel hopes will power her Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands (CDU, Christian Democratic Party) to victory on September 22 alongside the CSU, which has been united with the CDU in federal politics for decades.  Merkel, who currently governs in an alliance with the liberal Freie Demokratische Partei (FDP, Free Democratic Party), hopes that voters will give her credit for steering Germany — and the entire eurozone — through the worst of a sovereign debt crisis that began in 2010 and an economic recession from which Europe may already be recovering.

But the CSU and Bavaria’s minister president Horst Seehofer (pictured above) can make an even more sanguine case on the basis of the Bavarian economy, which showcases several star multinational corporations, such as BMW, Siemens, and adidas.  Whereas the European Union had an average unemployment rate of 10.4% in 2012 and Germany had an unemployment rate of 5.5%, Bavaria’s was just 3.2%.  To consider just how staggering that is, consider that United States last had an unemployment rate that low in October 1953. It’s an economy that, at around  €465 billion ($610 billion), is about as large as the economy of the US state of Pennsylvania and even larger than the entire economy of Saudi Arabia, and nearly 1.5 times the size of the economy of neighboring Austria.

If the CSU is successful on September 15, it will mark a rebound from the previous September 2008 election, the CSU’s worst performance since 1954.  Five years ago, Bavarian voters went to the polls in the middle of an uncertain future, with the collapse of US financial firm Lehman Brothers and a global financial panic topping world headlines.  It was also a period of uncertain leadership within the CSU, Bavarian minister-president Edmund Stoiber resigned after 14 years in office following the resignation of his chief of staff, Michael Höhenberger, which itself followed accusations that Höhenberger snooped on the private life of one of Stoiber’s critics.  Günther Beckstein, Stoiber’s longtime interior minister, succeeded Stoiber and led the CSU through the 2008 election, but stepped down following the CSU’s historic loss.

Even though the CSU won just 43.4% of the vote (a drop of over 17% from its prior performance) and lost its absolute majority in the Landtag, it remained the largest party in Bavaria by far, outpacing the second-place Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD, Social Democratic Party) by nearly 25% of the vote and Seehofer, a former health and food minister, easily won election as Bavaria’s minister-president in October 2008.

As the CSU and the SPD both suffered historic losses, two additional groups on the Bavarian right made extraordinary gains.  The first is the Freie Wähler (FW, Free Voters), a bloc of independent, unaffiliated center-right deputies, which won 10% of the vote, largely from disappointed CSU supporters, and entered the Bavarian Landtag for the first time.  The second is the FDP, which won 8% and 16 seats, returning to the Bavarian legislature for the first time in 14 years and providing the CSU with a stable coalition partner in Munich.  Even the socialist Die Linke (The Left) competed for the first time and won 4.3%, impressive in a state as conservative as Bavariabavaria Five years later, although polling data isn’t as ubiquitous for Bavaria’s state election as for the wider federal German elections, the CSU is polling higher than in 2008, and it may win over 50% of the vote, restoring the absolute majority that it enjoyed in the Landtag without interruption from 1962 to 2008. That’s good news for Seehofer, because the FDP is faring as poorly in Bavaria as it is in federal polling — the Free Democrats are in danger of missing the 5% threshold required to win seats in the Bavarian Landtag (and in the federal Bundestag as well).  Meanwhile, the Social Democrats are in danger of setting a new postwar low in Bavaria on September 15 and in federal elections a week later — it’s polling at around 18% in Bavaria, which is even worse than its 2008 result (18.6%).  Continue reading Bavarian elections provides Merkel, CSU a dress rehearsal for federal German vote

Rudd’s same-sex marriage pledge biggest surprise in bland Australian leaders debate

firstdebate

After six years of government defined in large part by the bickering of one odd couple of Labor leaders, current prime minister Kevin Rudd is betting that his push to recognize all Australian couples will push his center-left Australian Labor Party to a third term in government. Australia Flag Icon

In what most commentators agree was a bland performance by both leaders in the first debate between prime minister Kevin Rudd (pictured above, left) and opposition leader Tony Abbott (pictured above, right) in Australia’s election campaign, the biggest news of the night was Rudd’s announcement to take up the cause of full same-sex marriage equality.  When Rudd announced in the debate that he would, if reelected, call a vote within 100 days to enact same-sex marriage equality in Australia, his campaign team was ready to go with a fully-formed campaign-in-miniature (with its own website and Twitter handle) and a nifty slogan, ‘It’s time,’ that draws on Labor’s popular slogan from the 1972 election campaign that brought prime minister Gough Whitlam to power.  Arguing that ‘folk out there want this to happen,’ especially young voters, Rudd pledged a full vote of conscience if Labor wins the September 7 national elections.

In one sense, it marks a step forward for Australian marriage equality, especially after New Zealand enacted a same-sex marriage statute with the support of prime minister John Key, nearly half of his governing National Party and virtually all of the opposition Labour and Green Parties.  Rudd announced earlier this year that he supported full same-sex marriage rights, which put him at odds with the Labor prime minister at the time, Julia Gillard, and it meant that when Rudd replaced Gillard in June after a Labor Party leadership contest, Australia had its first pro-gay marriage prime minister.

Rudd, who came to power for the first time after the November 2007 elections, enacted reforms in December 2008 as prime minister to provide that same-sex couples in Australia would have the same rights as ‘de facto partners’ as cohabitating opposite-sex couples, including inheritance rights, joint tax rights, employment rights, and joint entitlement rights.  The reforms received support at the time not only from Labor, but from the center-right Liberal Party of Australia and the Australian Green Party as well.

But though LGBT rights groups welcomed Rudd’s statement, it has more than the whiff of a gimmick to it, coming less than a month before Australians go to the polls and with Rudd either tied or narrowly behind Abbott in the polls.  Moreover, there’s no guarantee that holding a vote would actually enact gay marriage.  Labor MP Stephen Jones introduced a bill to legalize same-sex marriage in September 2012, and it lost in the House of Representatives on a vote of 98 to 42.  A similar vote in Australia’s Senate lost by a vote of 50 to 26.

Abbott, who leads not only the Liberal Party, but the broad Liberal/National Party ‘Coalition’ in Australia’s parliament, has not committed to hold a free vote on same-sex marriage if he becomes prime minister — despite the fact that his sister, Christine Forster, is a lesbian.  Abbott, who supported the 2008 reforms, currently opposes changing Australia’s Marriage Act, which currently defines marriage as between one man and one woman:  Continue reading Rudd’s same-sex marriage pledge biggest surprise in bland Australian leaders debate

Why Western Australia doesn’t necessarily spell the end for Gillard

gillard

Saturday’s state elections in Western Australia were not good news for the Labor Party or for its leader, Australian prime minister Julia Gillard (pictured above).WA flag iconAustralia Flag Icon

First off, it’s important to note that no one expected Labor to win the election — premier Colin Barnett faced an electorate largely satisfied with the direction of the state’s economy and governance since he came to office in 2008.

Barnett’s center-right Liberal Party won 47.2% on Saturday to just 33.6% for the center-left Labor Party.  The leftist Green Party finished in third place with 7.9% and the conservative agrarian National Party in fourth with 6% — the National Party competes separately in Western Australia against the Liberal Party (unlike in federal elections, where it competes more or less in tandem with the Liberal Party as part of the Liberal/National Coalition).

Barnett’s victory gives him an expected 32 seats — an increase of eight — in the state’s 59-member lower house, the Legislative Assembly, which means that he’ll be governing with a majority for the first time; his previous minority government required a coalition with the Nationals.

Labor will drop from 28 seats to 20, the Nationals rise from five seats to seven.

That has resulted in yet another round of hand-wringing over Julia Gillard’s Labor government, which is seeking reelection in a vote scheduled for September 14 later this year — one former Western Australian Labor minister argues that Labor will suffer a ‘crucifixion’ at the polls if Gillard leads it through the election.

But while Gillard’s government — and her Labor leadership — remain on shaky ground, it seems doubtful that Western Australia, as such, should necessarily be the final domino to topple Gillard. Continue reading Why Western Australia doesn’t necessarily spell the end for Gillard