Background Information on German Elections

by Joshua Tucker on September 22, 2013 · 3 comments

in Campaigns and elections,Comparative Politics,Election Reports

As we wait for the results of the German elections, we are pleased to be able to provide some background on this election from Benjamin Preisler, who most recently obtained his second M.A. from the College of Europe and is now looking for new opportunities. He blogs and tweets.  We will have post-election reports in the coming days.

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The outcome of the federal elections that took place in Germany today, September 22, had enthralled Europe for the better part of 2013. Clearly, some national elections have become continental issues as the attention paid to Greek or French elections in recent years had already hinted at. Little surprisingly, Merkel’s reigning CDU/CSU has won, yet much remains uncertain as to what kind of coalition will – or even can – govern Germany.

The setup of the Bundestag had remained remarkably stable following its inauguration in 1949. Apart from two small exceptions in 1949 and 1953, the same three parties (CDU/CSU, SPD & FDP) topped the necessary 5%-hurdle, split all seats amongst each other and determined the government – with the FDP oftentimes tipping the scales – all the way up to 1983.

This inertia (or stability) of the party system started eroding over time with the process of – relevant – new parties emerging taking place increasingly rapidly. In the 1980s the Greens became a fixture on the parliamentary scene providing the blueprint for a bipolar four-parties, two-camps opposition that culminated in Schröder’s red-green coalition. Following reunification the former state party of East Germany became the PDS and made its entry onto the parliamentary scene as a regional power, which it consolidated through a union in 2007 with a predominately West German protest movement (the WASG) that resulted in today’s Die Linke.

These four established parties are joined in these elections by the Pirates who in 2011-2012 garnered enough votes to make their entry into four state parliaments. Currently drawing most attention though is an absolute newcomer on the German political scene in the Euro(zone)-skeptic Alternative für Deutschland, which arose out of a conservative economist-heavy backlash against the Merkel government’s supposedly failed policies in the framework of the eurocrisis.

From a stable three party system, Germany has thus moved to a volatile four to seven party whirlwind. As the exit polls beneath make clear, a parliament that currently seemingly consists of four parties could feasibly have either five or six at any point during this night.

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