The German general election has resulted in a clear win for the Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union bloc (CDU/CSU), led by the incumbent Chancellor, Angela Merkel. The partly-proportional Additional Member electoral system has produced a vote-share of 33.8 per cent for the bloc, far above the 23 per cent won by their main rivals, the Social Democrat Party (SPD), led by Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Ms Merkel will now be able to head a coalition with Guido Westerwelle, leader of the right-wing, pro-market Free Democrat Party (FDP), which won 14.6 per cent and is the biggest single gainer from the election. There will be a categorical change of political climate with the ending of the Grand Coalition between the centre-right CDU/CSU and the centre-left SPD. Initial assessments are that taxes will probably be cut, that Germany’s 17 nuclear plants will not be decommissioned, and that the increasingly controversial German military presence in Afghanistan will be maintained for the foreseeable future. It is also likely that the post-war social consensus between labour, capital, and government will be progressively brought under more critical scrutiny, but that may not happen immediately; Germany, which with France is the strongest exponent of the consensus, is said to be leading the West towards economic recovery, and Ms Merkel will probably not allow Mr. Westerwelle to rock any boat yet.

Closer analysis, however, reveals a less decisive margin of victory for the CDU/CSU than the overall figures suggest. The turnout, down from 78 per cent in 2005 to 70.8 per cent, was the lowest in Germany’s post-war history. The CDU/CSU’s dismal performance in provincial elections in Thuringia and Saarland, together with a late SPD poll surge, left the overall results in some doubt until near the election itself. The eventual margin therefore makes the SPD the biggest loser, with its lowest share of the vote since the war as well as a huge loss of voters to parties on its left. In particular, the Left Party, formed by communists from the former German Democratic Republic together with western German leftists, improved its share from 8.7 per cent to 11.9 per cent. The Greens also improved, from 8.1 per cent in 2005 to 10.7 per cent. Now the SPD, purportedly the leaders of German social democracy, is in predictable disarray. They have only themselves to blame, both for rejecting what could have been a winning alliance with the Left Party in 2005 and then for accepting their Grand Coalition partner’s moves towards deregulation and the unrestrained market. German social democracy may never be the same again.

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