It looks as though everyone lost. Or almost everyone. The German elections have come and gone. Chancellor Gerhard SchrÃ¶der and his coalition, headed by the Social Democratic Party (SDP), are the formal victors. But despite the traditional optimistic announcements, there is confusion in the winning camp. And, for that matter, among the losers. What has happened?
Not long before the Germans, the Swedes elected their parliament. There, the left came out ahead. The Social Democrats and their allies in the Left Party (the former communists) won 48.4 per cent of the votes. The Greens attracted another 4.6 per cent, ensuring them 17 seats in the parliament and providing the left-centre government with a solid majority.
The fears (and hopes) that the German Social Democrats would be defeated were not borne out. But the vote for SchrÃ¶derâ€™s party was unimpressive, to say the least. The SDP came out of the elections â€œneck and neckâ€ with its main conservative opponent, the Christian Democrats (CDU). Early in the vote-counting the Christian Democrats even spurted ahead, but the final tallies showed that the government and opposition parties finished up in a virtual tie. For the CDU this was a disappointing outcome, but they nevertheless made big gains. The Social Democrats, by contrast, lost votes.
The coalition survived because the Greens, the junior partner in the government, gained an unexpectedly large number of votes. The Free Democrats, the partner of the CDU in the opposition, also â€œgained weightâ€, but not as much as the Greens. The elections, in fact, came down to two â€œduelsâ€. The SDP cannot be said to have won its contest with the Christian Democrats, but the Greens decisively outplayed the Free Democrats, and so saved the coalition. SchrÃ¶der is now faced with difficult negotiations over the formation of a new cabinet. Joschka Fischer and other leaders of the Greens will demand new posts.
A further result of the elections has been the defeat of the Party of Democratic Socialism. At every election until this one, the PDS has steadily gained votes. The party was smeared with mud or subjected to a press blackout, and attempts were made to isolate it, but the number of its supporters simply kept rising. This happened not only in the former
The leaders of the PDS in turn concentrated their thoughts on the prospect of taking part in a coalition with the SDP on the federal level. The party, it was considered, needed to become regierungsfÃ¤hig â€“ fit for participation in government. In other words, as decent and moderate as possible. The result was that with each day that passed the PDS became harder to distinguish from the SDP. But what need was there for a second social democratic party, if one already existed? Moreover, one that was far stronger and more influential? Through becoming â€œrespectableâ€, the PDS rendered itself uninteresting, and support for it politically senseless. The party accepted responsibility for unpopular measures carried out by the governments in
In sum, everyone lost. The Social Democrats were humbled, the Free Democrats were crushed, the Christian Democrats were disappointed, and the democratic socialists suffered a rout. And what about the sole â€œwinnersâ€, the Greens? Needless to say, they are celebrating. But the Greens should not be too cheerful either. The electors were not voting for the politics of the Greens, because the Greens have had no politics for a long time now. The era has passed when supporters of radical environmental movements rallied beneath the partyâ€™s banners. The Greens are now simply an association of careerists who share a more or less left-wing past. Their policies boil down to obtaining jobs in ministries and parliamentary commissions. But precisely because the Greens themselves do not know what they stand for, their party has become the last resort for disillusioned voters. The other parties all arouse a negative reaction, but the Greens do not evoke any feelings whatever. Or at worst, merely contempt. People who have not wanted the rightists to come to power, but have found SchrÃ¶der repellent, have voted for Fischerâ€™s careerists. They have got what they wanted. The right has not come to power, and SchrÃ¶der and company have been assured of a headache for four years to come.
The conclusion is thus compelling that in the political sense, there were no winners. But there is something else that should not be forgotten. In the final weeks before the elections, SchrÃ¶der made a sharp turn to the left. Recalling his Marxist-pacifist past, he began to make resounding anti-American speeches, demanding that Bush abandon his crusade against