It used to be so easy: Germany (East) had one party, Germany (West) had three. Forming a government in the GDR was an open-and-shut case, and in any event irrelevant, because what mattered was the Party. Forming a government in the FRG was a bit more complicated because either the CDU or the SPD had to convince the FDP to join the government. Actually, it was a bit more complicated on many levels, especially before 1960, but this was the established picture of West German politics.
Then came the Green Party and then unification and with it the PDS, and finally Die Linke. And now it’s almost like Denmark in the 1970s – even though the SPD looks more like the Danish Conservatives in that era.
The latest state elections make for some interesting bargaining.
Saxony is fairly straightforward: CDU and FDP have a majority and will form a government. If it wasn’t for the brown element and the fact that SPD struggles to get past 10% of the vote, a careless observer could almost mistake Saxony for a West German state. (A turn-out of 52% suggests that many voters expected the outcome and didn’t bother to go to the polling stations).
Saarland is trickier. The presence of Oskar Lafontaine1 sure livened up proceedings as turn-out rose from 55,5 to 67,6%. Here three coalitions are numerically and ideologically possible: SPD-Linke-Grüne, CDU-FDP-Grüne or CDU-SPD. Things are made a little easier by the fact that SPD is still marginally larger than Die Linke (24,5 vs. 21.3%) and would be able to claim the position of state prime minister in a Red-Red-Green coalition. On the other hand, the presence of Oskar Lafontaine who is not exactly loved in the SPD is a complicating matter, but to a certain degree Die Grünen hold a lot of leverage in negotiations.
And then there’s Thüringen which can only be described as a nice mess. The good news is that turn-out was up slightly (from 53,8 to 56,2%) but the election did not return any likely coalition. CDU and FDP only hold 37 of 88 seats, SPD and Grüne 24. CDU-FDP-Grüne makes 43, SPD-Grüne-FDP 31. So, it is either CDU-SPD (48 seats), SPD-Linke (45 seats) or possibly SPD-Linke-Grüne (51 seats – which considering the propensity of MdLs to defect may be a very good idea to consider).
But wait: There is more! Not only does the SPD have to consider the prospect of entering a coalition with Die Linke – it has been done in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and Berlin and even a Danish-style tolerated minority government saw the light of day in Sachsen-Anhalt in the 1990s. There are two additional problems: Die Linke is larger than SPD in Thüringen (27,7 vs. 19%) and there is a controversy over Die Linke’s leading candidate, Bodo Ramelow, who should be the leader of a left-wing coalition according to normal expectations. (The question is if SPD is using the story about German intelligence services spying on Ramelow in order to strenghten their position in negotiations or if the considerations are legitimate). But effectively, the SPD has the choice between being the junior partner in a coalition with CDU or with Die Linke and Die Grünen.
Maybe everybody will be stalling negotiations and wait for the result of the federal election in a couple of weeks’ time.
Update: In Die Zeit, Andreas Wüst asks if making a Green politician (presumably Astrid Rothe-Beinlich) state prime minister couldn’t be a way out of deadlock. I think a similar model where the state PM did not come from the largest party has been tried a couple of times back in the early years of the FRG (Niedersachsen and one of the Länder which merged into Baden-Württemberg)
- From listening to podcasts I’ve learnt that Lafontaine is pronounced ‘lafontäne, not lafon’täne despite Wikipedia’s assurances to the opposite [↩]