Germany’s traditional political parties are in free-fall. Both the CDU and SPD have experienced dramatic political defeats in recent regional elections. The country’s political landscape is about to fundamentally change, and it could become difficult for any political alliance to establish a stable government for a long time to come.
The headlines of German newspapers in recent week have been largely dominated by stories forecasting the impending end of the current government coalition led by Chancellor Angela Merkel. The Christian Democrats of the “CDU” and the Social Democrats of the “SPD” fell to new historic lows in recent regional elections held in Bavaria and Hessen within just three weeks. With these latest election thumps, the calls for a dissolution of the federal government and an early snap election are growing with every passing day.
Recent opinion polls seem to suggest that the traditional political parties could also experience a total collapse in support in such anticipated election. The current “grand coalition” between the until now two largest parties CDU and SPD would no longer be able to obtain a majority, as both parties stand at only 29% and 15% of the total voting intentions in recent polls, respectively. With the current rise in popularity of formerly fringe parties such as the Green party or the extreme right party AfD, the political landscape in Germany is undergoing fundamental change.
It is quite likely that the German parliament will be constituted of five or more parties in the near future. This is already the case in many of the country’s regional parliaments. Throughout Germany’s post World War II history, the country had only been governed by the two main political parties: The Christian Democrats “CDU” and the Social Democrats “SPD” have been used to either govern alone, or in coalition with smaller parties such as the liberal democrats ”FDP”, and in later days the Green Party. Now however, the established parties don’t even seem to get above the 30% mark anymore, let alone the 20% mark for the SPD in recent polls.
Therefore, in the near future, federal governments in Germany will likely require a majority of at least three parties, an absolute novelty in German politics. Germans have often looked at other countries such as Italy, Belgium or the Netherlands with disdain, smirking at the un-governability of these countries and the complicated constitution of coalition governments, made up of a large amount of small parties.
Now, it looks like Germany will face its very own conundrum of governability. The loss of power of traditional parties and fragmentation of the political system may of course in part be attributed to the policy choices of recent governments. But it may also be related to the lack of differentiation between the main political parties in recent years. The forced marriage between the two largest parties for over a decade now has led to the evisceration of political differences between these entities, which used to be radically opposed in their stances.
The challenge of fast-growing populist movement is only intensifying this situation. In the eyes of many, the xenophobic AfD now appears to be the only opposition party in Germany, with the remaining parties belonging to the mainstream: In a political system where all parties are all too obsessed with political stability, a party that shouts out loud on alleged problems facing the country ends up catching the voters’ attention. Latest polls credited the AfD with more than 20% of voting intentions. The Green party is also finding its way towards becoming more than just a kingmaker for established parties, as they are edging closer to parity with the formally established parties, and would also be expected to get around 20% of the vote if an election were held today.
Considering the increasing fragmentation of the German political system, it will likely become difficult to assemble governing majorities. Germany could be facing many years of failed attempts at forming and maintaining stable governments. Looking ahead, the question will be how much more terrain a formerly freak occurrence of a party such as AfD can gain, now that it has entered the political mainstream. This depends very much on whether the formerly “populous” parties will finally take their gloves of have a go at each other, or remain in their current lethargy and peaceful coexistence that has bored so many people out of voting for them.