Thursday, 15 January 2009

Hessen to vote on Sunday. And general ramblings on German politics.

The German state of Hessen (of Frankfurt am Main fame, though its government is based in Wiesbaden) is gearing up for elections this Sunday. The result is tipped to be a CDU-FDP win as the two right-wing parties, which would ensure CDU leader Roland Koch remains at the head of the state government as Minister-Praesident.

Hessen (German spelling; it's Hesse in English) has been a particularly interesting state over the last year. The elections in Jan 2008 saw the CDU greatly weakened, losing its majority, but struggling on as a minority government since the SPD couldn't form a workable coalition to oust him. The rest of the year saw many bizarre and frankly embarrassing attempts by SPD leader Ypsilanti desperately try to form a minority coalition with the Greens which was to govern with a supportive Die Linke (which would remain outside the coalition).* Ypsilanti's tactics resulted in widening the left(er)-right(ish) split in the SPD, and helped (accelerate) SPD party chief Beck's downfall.

The whole thing could end up helping to cost the SPD the next Bundestag election. Ypsilanti remains a divisive figure (German).

Not that the Conservatives have had it all their way this year either, with the CDU's sister party, the CSU, loosing its majority in Bavaria for the first time in 46 years. They're still in power though, just with the FDP.

Germany is now a five party system (CDU, SPD, FDP, Buendnis 90/Die Gruenen and Die Linke), sparking some fears that there will be instability from now on: "Jetzt wird es zu bunt! (Das Volk entscheidet: Ist die Republik regierbar?)".**

With the two biggest parties in a Grand Coalition at federal level, there could be a bigger movement to the smaller parties than would normally be the case if dissatisfaction with the government continues to grow. But pushing the government at the ballot box may cost Germany the stability it needs to get through the economic crisis.

As for the EU, it is never a good time for one of the "big 3" to become ineffective.

* Long-winded explanation:

Die Linke are the successors to the ruling Communist party in the old east Germany.

Since the SPD don't deal with them outside the eastern states (much in the way governments refuse to negotiate with terrorists... most of the time), Ypsilanti's political games split the SPD into those who wanted to work with Die Linke, and those who saw them as a threat and refused to talk to them.

**"Now it becomes a rainbow! (The people decide: Is the republic governable?)" [The "rainbow" is a reference to the German habit of naming coalitions after the colours of the parties. CDU-FDP would be Black-Yellow. With 3 parties involved they get more creative names, like the "Jamaican Coalition," made up of the Black-Yellow-Green of the CDU-FDP-Gruenen; or the "Traffic light coalition": the Red-Yellow-Green of the SPD-FDP-Gruenen.

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