By Elisabeth Hellenbroich
The recent Sunday elections (13 March 2016) in three German federal States (Rheinland – Pfalz, Baden-Württemberg and the East German Federal State Sachsen-Anhalt) have hit the German political establishment and many layers of society with a shock. Every fifth voter of the eligible voters in Germany (around 13 Million) could vote.
It was a strong litmus test for the German political situation one year before the upcoming Federal lection 2017. Political observers noted that the refugee crisis was the issue of the elections.There is a rift in the German societ, as Thomas Oppermann (the faction leader of the SPD, which is part of the governing coalition with CDU/CSU) wrote March 15 in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), 49% of the German population fear that too many refugees are coming into Germany, while 49% don’t share this opinion. Will all this lead to a necessary, political, sober reassessment in Berlin? Unlike previous times, the voters participation in these elections was very high – between 60% and nearly 70% .The author of this article, who was present at a voting district in the city of Mainz, noticed that there was a lot of young people, pupils, students, young employees, but also older people who this time felt the urgent need to mobilize and articulate their “unease” with the political class. This explains why many voters, for example young voters, split their vote, giving the first one to their preferred local candidate from one party and the second vote (“party-vote”) to another party [the German ballots are structured in such a way, as to to favour maximum liberty of expression – ed].
The election result was indeed quite devastating: in the federal State Rheinland-Pfalz the Christian Democratic Party (CDU) almost lost 5% (31.8% compared to the previous 36,2%); the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and its Prime Minister Malu Dreyer could increase their percentage from 35.7% to 36.2%. Its coalition partner, the Greenies (who became very militant after the Fukushima events, by demanding the shutdown of all nuclear power plants – which Chancellor Merkel at that time decided to do by demanding a shift to renewable energy) were totally smashed and decreased their result from 15.4% to 5.3%. The Left (“Die Linke”) lost from 3.0% to 2.8% and for the first time in years the liberal party FDP increased from 4.2% to 6.2% , winning again parliamentary seats. The big surprise of the day was the new party AFD (Alternative für Deutschland) which for the first time got 12.6%. The AFD stands for many things, such as direct democracy, Swiss-style plebiscite and a strong rejection of Merkel’s refugee policy. There are different currents assembled in this nationalist- conservative party, including right-wing extremists “who are against foreigners”, radical populists as well as political pragmatists, who are disappointed about the CDU “leftist” turn and who this time voted AFD “to teach the ruling political class a lesson”. Many of the AFD voters are are protest voters “against the political ruling class”. The mainstream media and some politicians tried in the past to label them as “rightwing extremist you don’t discuss with”. This strategy of “labelling, ignoring, isolating” obviously failed.
The party AFD won an overwhelming result in all three parliaments, somehting equivalent to Marie Le Pen’s victory in France. The official reaction throughout the country was a desperate outcry along the lines that this is almost the end of the Republic, a return of the ghosts from the past.
In the federal State Baden-Württemberg, under ruling Prime Minister Winfried Kretschmann (a Greenie) the Greenies went up from 24.3% to 30.3%. It is expected that Kretschmann will now try to form a black-green coalition government, (CDU-Greenie) which some observers qualify as a viable national model. The Christian Democratic Party lost almost 12% – from 39.0% to 27.0%. The SPD lost 11% going down from 23.1% to 12.7%. While the new party AFD got 15.1%.This means the AFD is stronger in terms of parliamentary seats than the traditional SPD. Also here, the Liberal Party FDP got 8.3%.
In the East German Federal State Sachsen-Anhalt, the CDU under Prime Minister Haseloff fell from 32.5% to 29.8%. The SPD lost in traditional working class districts more than 10%, it fell from 21.4% to10.6%, while the AFD got 24.2% (!) and ranks now as the second strongest party after the CDU. The Left (the successor party of the SED, the ruling party of the former DDR) lost almost 7% – falling from 23.7% to 16.3.
Many commentators have declared that this indicates a tectonic earthquake in Germany, given the enormous collapse of the traditional party structures. The new phenomenon of our time is that an enormous drain and migration of traditional voters has occurred within the traditional party system, shifting to more polarized right and left. Hence: in Baden-Württemberg the CDU lost 190.000 votes to the AFD, the SPD lost 90.000 to the AFD, the Greenies 70.000, the Left 22.000 and the FDP 18000 to the AFD. In Rhineland-Pfaltz 37.000 voters schifted from the SPD to AFD, and 50.000 migrated to AFD from the CDU, from the FDP 8.000, from the Greenies 5.000 and from the Left 12.000. In Sachsen –Anhalt the CDU lost 38.000 voters, the Left 28.000, the SPD 20.000, the FDP 6.000 and Greenie lost 3.000 to the AFD.
Total delusion (or manipulative arrogance?) displayed by the ruling elite
It is obvious that a solution for the refugee crisis must be found on a European level, where Germany hopes to get an agreement with the Turkish government (by paying billions of Euro and hoping to get also money from other European states) and to find a distribution solution for those refugees while ensuring that most of them return to the country of origin: at the same time, efforts are made to secure the borders of the “Schengen Area”. While this should go in line with a peaceful settlement of the Syria conflict in cooperation with Russia, it is indeed breathtaking to see how certain establishment figures behave in the most absurd way in response to the new challenges. For example: during the election night, German Defense Minister von der Leyen (an invited guest at a talk show moderated by Anne Will), hailed the elections as a “victory” and total confirmation of Chancellor Merkel’s policy. The reason given: Greenie Prime Minister Kretschmann from Baden-Württemberg and the SPD Prime Minister from Rhineland-Pfaltz Malu Dreyer had shown a correct attitude and had given support to Merkel’s refugee policy.
This goes along with the line that those who make rational criticism against Merkel’s refugee policy are seen as “immoral.” An example is CDU coalition partner Horst Seehofer from the CSU (Bavaria) who is blamed by the main stream press for having caused the political earthquake with the AFD, since he had from the beginning demanded a regulation of the migrant flow. He is now the official “black sheep” of the German republic.
A more fine-tuned reading concerning this strange reaction formation within the establishment and mainstream media (this also includes Russia-bashing along the line: “Putin wants to split the EU”, “Russia is to blame for the refugee crisis) is that a great part of the Berlin-based political establishment is living far away from reality in a world of wishful delusion, totally decoupled from their own population. What we see in the repetitive line “We will make it”, as FAZ journalist Geyer correctly noted, has become a “civil religious” affair – far beyond politics.
Another senior FAZ economic correspondent, Holger Steltzner, underlines that the established parties are shrinking. He foresees a dramatic shrinkage of the CDU, if things continue the same way, despite the fact that “a majority of the population rejects Merkel’s welcome culture”. The question is whether the official establishment is well advised when it limits to labels “enemy of the democracy” those parts of the usual non-voters which this time were mobilized .
“Most of the Germans want the same as their neighbors, namely that there is not an ‘unlimited and unregulated flow of migrants and refugees’,” Steltzner notes. In his opinon the explanation given by German Defense Minister von der Leyen after the elections, who spoke about a “victory” for the Chancellor policy, is something which will be regretted one day, since one cannot constantly rule against the “will of the people”. He further identifies a certain “arrogance” in Berlin which pretends that there will be a European solution under the German leadership, even if everybody sees that the policy of closing the borders which was enacted by the smaller countries along the Balkan route, has effectively “reduced” the number of refugees, against the will of Berlin. What would be needen, in response to all this wishful delusion, is an honest and rational debate in the German Republic.
15. March 2016