German Chancellor Angela Merkel has won a fourth national election, affirming the German predilection for stability and the known in its politics. While the election results validated her policies and were widely anticipated, they nevertheless hint at future difficulties for the chancellor. Her immediate task is forging a governing coalition, a job that will likely take some time. Her continued presence at the apex of the German government is much needed at a time of tumult within Europe and around the world.
Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) continues to be the leading party in parliament, winning 33 percent of the vote and capturing 246 of the 709 seats contested, according to tentative results; that is, however, a loss of nearly 10 percentage points compared with the last ballot in 2013.
The Social Democratic Party (SDP) held on to second place with just 153 seats. Third place was claimed by the right-wing Alternative for Germany (its German initials are AfD), which enters parliament for the first time with 94 seats. The free-market liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP), capturing 80 seats, returns to the legislature after failing to pass the 5 percent vote threshold in the last national election. The Greens and the Left (the latter is the successor to the communists) complete the political lineup, winning 67 and 69 seats, respectively. None of these results is a surprise.
Merkel is no stranger to coalition government. She has presided over three since becoming chancellor in 2005: twice with the SDP and once with the FDP. During the last four years, a “Grand Coalition” of the CDU and SDP has governed, providing much-needed stability and solidity. But the SDP’s worst showing in an election since the end of World War II has prompted the party leadership to terminate that partnership and assume the leadership of the opposition.
Merkel’s most likely partner is the FDP — the CDU and FDP have a long history of coalition governments — but even that two-party coalition would not give Merkel the majority she has said she wants. Having ruled out cooperation with the AfD, the Green Party is the only other serious contender.
This “Jamaica coalition” (so called because the colors of each party — CDU, or black, FDP, or yellow, and Green Party, or green — are the colors of that country’s flag) is a novelty and it will take time to forge a consensus on governing principles among the three. While the CDU and the Greens may not seem like natural partners, Merkel’s anti-nuclear stand, her support for actions against climate change and her support for open borders align their interests.
There is some concern over the AfD’s showing. Originally founded as a party of euroskeptics in 2013, AfD has found its voice as an anti-immigrant and German nationalist party that is considered to be anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic. One of the party’s leaders called the Holocaust Memorial a “memorial of shame,” while another has claimed the Nazi years “today don’t affect our identity anymore.” Alice Weidel, a co-leader of the party, disavows any radical agenda and said after the results were in that the AfD will be part of the “constructive opposition”
Most Germans view those statements with revulsion and suspicion, and consider the party a problem to be contained and its supporters co-opted. Other political parties have echoed Merkel’s thinking and pledged not to work with the AfD. Green leaders noted that there were “again Nazis in parliament.” Merkel has vowed to shore up her right flank, but she is also determined to maintain the open borders that she considers the cornerstone of the European dream.
A governing coalition will pursue three interrelated sets of objectives. Nationally, it will endeavor to maintain the steady growth, balanced budget and low unemployment that have marked the Merkel era. It will work to better integrate the more than 1 million refugees that have entered Germany in recent years. Success in that effort will depend on ensuring that the influx does not trigger violence, either by refugees or Germans.
The second set of objectives concerns shoring up the European project. That means offering leadership and a vision of the community that deflates nationalist fears. Navigating the challenge posed by the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union is part of this assignment, as is dealing with both Turkey and Russia to the east.
The third set of objectives is global. Merkel has emerged in recent years as one of the most reliable and powerful defenders of a liberal international order, one that defends human rights, open borders, and free and fair trade. She must continue to counter the international manifestations of the forces that animate the AfD, providing leadership, both practical, political and moral. The German people have recognized her role in all three. We wish her continued success in her fourth term.