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Every party counts

Text by Euny HONG

Latest update : 2009-09-25

Even though Angela Merkel’s continued rule as chancellor is being taken for granted, a complex electoral system and a shifting German political climate mean that every party will count in this election.

“Vote for Merkel or for Merkel!” read a recent headline in the German weekly Stern. Pundits may see Chancellor Angela Merkel’s victory as a foregone conclusion, but that doesn’t mean other parties in the Bundestag (the main chamber in the German parliament) need just sit back and wait for the next election. With an estimated 25% of German voters still undecided and the ruling CDU/CSU coalition with the SPD in trouble, another two- or three-party coalition looks likely. This means that even smaller parties are vitally important.


The principal parties


CDU, the party of current chancellor Angela Merkel, stands for Christian Democratic Union. Its sister organisation in Bavaria is known as the CSU. The CDU was formed in 1950 and has over 520,000 members. Despite its name, it no longer has any religious ties. The CDU is campaigning for tax cuts, and is the only party who has stated an express opposition to Turkey’s accession to the EU, a policy championed my Merkel herself. It supports Germany’s continued participation in NATO’s operation in Afghanistan, though Merkel has stressed she wants to work out a gradual transfer of security to Afghan forces – more or less in line with the US position under President Barack Obama. The party’s dominance is guaranteed by the continued popularity of its diminutive lioness, Angela Merkel.


The SDP, the centre-left Social Democrats, is the party currently in coalition with the CDU. It is pitting party member Frank-Walter Steinmeier, current vice-chancellor and foreign minister, against his boss, Angela Merkel. Founded in 1863, the SDP is the oldest German party. It has a roster of 513,000 members. The SPD has supported the idea of committing German troops to conflict zones as part of NATO-conducted missions. However, Germany’s military involvement in Afghanistan is increasingly unpopular at home and the SPD now supports a withdrawal of German troops.


The FDP (Free Democratic Party) is the centre-right party that Merkel is reportedly eyeing as a possible coalition partner as it sees eye-to-eye with her pro-business stance. Founded in 1948, the party, led by the charismatic Guido Westerwelle since 2001, boasts 68,000 members. Its policies are largely market and business friendly and sceptical about the welfare state. Some say the financial crisis has increased the FDP’s popularity among voters, who hope that its hard-line pragmatism will speed economic recovery. But the FDP is likely to bargain hard when approached to form a coalition with the CDU and push for a change in the tax system, its main campaigning issue.


The Left (Die Linke), which in its current form has only existed since 2007, has a membership list of 76,000. True to its name, it supports leftist causes like raising the top-tier tax rate to 53%. Though it was largely seen as a disorganised outlier a few years ago, it may become the keystone of a coalition. Dr. Jan Techau, a fellow at the German Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin, says the Left benefitted from SDP defectors who were disenchanted with the old leftist dinosaur. The Tagesspiegel newspaper said that the Left “could be the big winner in this election."


The Green party (Die Grüne), founded in 1980, has 46,500 members. It has completely transformed itself since its inception. Part of its mutation can be explained by the fact that environmentalism is no longer a fringe issue and the exclusive concern of the party. As explained by Techau: “It started with a ‘Muesli party’ attitude, but that has been abandoned. It was a single-issue party, now it is a very modern party uniting the older green wing with the BMW-driving urban elite.” Because of this harmonious right-left consolidation, Techau predicts massive expansion for the party: “It could even grow to 20% in a grand coalition. They could possibly be a kingmaker in the next 4-8 years.”


Take this quiz on your political opinions and see which party you should vote for.


Sources : Bundeszentrale für Politische Bildung

The Bundestag official site


Date created : 2009-09-24