Germany at the Frontier

It was “historic,” to be sure, but exciting it was not, this first free all-German election in nearly sixty years. Indeed, it was a considerable national achievement to make such an important election campaign so consummately boring. I say this with only slight irony. For there is something truly remarkable in the matter-of-fact normality with which Germany has settled down to being a united democratic state.

A victoryon December 2 for the existing coalition of Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) and Free Democrats (FDP) was, in the last weeks of the campaign, taken to be a foregone conclusion. The only outstanding issues were the precise numbers, and hence the new balance inside the governing coalition, and the fate of the smaller parties. In the event, fears that the German party landscape would fragment under the impact of unification—the ghost of the Weimar Republic was painfully revived to walk the ramparts just one more time—proved thoroughly unfounded. On the contrary, there was an overall consolidation of the existing party landscape.

Following a ruling by the constitutional court, the 5 percent hurdle was applied separately to the region of the former GDR and to that of the former West Germany—loosely but universally called simply “East” and “West”—although only for this one election. As a result, the coalition in the East of the Greens and the Alliance ‘90—which includes some of the people who actually started the “October revolution” of 1989—got into the new Bundestag, as did the seventeen candidates of the so-called Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS)—the successor to the ruling Communist party—which polled 11 percent of the vote in the former GDR. But to judge by present trends both these parties would seem likely to disappear from the Bundestag at the next federal election in 1994. Meanwhile the Greens in the West, who had even more problems than the Social Democrats in accepting unification, and whose ecological themes had been successfully taken up by the established parties (“We are all Greens now”), failed to reach the 5 percent hurdle and therefore did not reenter the Bundestag.

Consequently, the first democratically elected parliament of the new Germany is dominated by the four long-established parties, the CDU and the Bavarian CSU—to which it is permanently, if stormily, married—the FDP, and the SPD, whose title now once again accurately reflects its position, for its D has always stood for Germany (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands). The CSU is in a slightly weaker position than after the last election, partly because it got only (only!) 52 percent of the vote in Bavaria, but mainly because it did not manage to establish itself in the East (that is, geographically to Bavaria’s north). Earlier in the year it seemed possible that Saxony and Thuringia, at least, might give a significant vote to a CSU sister party called the DSU, but in the event virtually all those votes went to Chancellor Kohl’s CDU. The CDU and FDP, by contrast …

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