Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Germany's Election Brings Changing Political Tide

New York Times: Merkel’s Party Claims Victory in Germany
BBC News: Merkel Pledges Speedy Transition
News Week: After German Elections, the End of an Era for the European Left

Chancellor Angela Merkel claimed her second victory in the German election Sunday after her Christian Democrat party won 33.8 percent of the vote. The former coalition party, the Social Democrats, earning only 23 percent of the votes, failed to maintain a majority partnership in the government and will fall out of the majority coalition. The defeat comes as a shock to the Social Democrats who, along with the Christian Democrats, have dominated German politics since 1945. With the Social Democrats out of the majority, the Christian Democrats will form a new coalition with the Free Democrats, a more liberal, business-friendly party that earned 14.6 percent of the vote.

This election marks major changes for Germany’s political environment. The two formerly-dominant parties, the Christian Democrats and Social Democrats, both lost significant votes with their constituents. Votes for the Social Democrats plunged 11.2 percentage points from last election, while the Christian Democrats lost 1.4 percentage points. The big winners of the election were the Free Democrats gaining 4.7 percent, the Left Party gaining 3.2 percent, and the Green Party gaining 2.6 percentage points. The rise of these non-dominant parties, together with the Left Party’s acquisition of some leftist Social Democrats who were disillusioned over their party’s recent centrist nature, help explain the shift of power.

Despite these changes, the Christian Democrats and Free Democrats are motivated to form a majority coalition and make rapid changes. Even though the coalition doesn’t make up a simple majority, it won enough votes for a majority in Parliament because 6 percent of the election votes went to parties finishing below the 5 percent benchmark needed to win parliamentary seats. Both parties of the majority coalition campaigned for tax cuts and business-friendly reforms that might be difficult to implement in the face of the country’s soaring public debt and struggling financial system. The coalition also wants to tackle the country’s presence in Afghanistan, the nation’s unemployment level, and nuclear policy (see Germany's Nuclear Debate). Some constituents, however, are now calling for slower, less radical changes until the country can move beyond the challenges it faces in the midst of the financial crisis.

Political change is not the only development from the recent election. The once-traditional, right-leaning Germany has reelected the country’s first female chancellor, who is expected to be joined by the country’s first openly gay vice chancellor and foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle. Mr. Westerwelle will serve a vital role in nuclear diplomacy discussions with Tehran and Germany’s involvement in Afghanistan.

Discussion Questions:
1. Should the new coalition refrain from making radical changes until the country is out of the recession, or will the proposed changes help it climb out of its financial crisis?

2. Germany, the United Kingdom, and many other countries (Argentina, Chile, Finland, India, Ireland, Liberia, Haiti, Iceland, Mozambique, The Netherlands Antilles, Ukraine, etc.) have vested the highest leadership power in female leaders. Why do you think some countries have never had a female leader? Do you think developing countries are better suited for female leadership than developed nations?

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