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General Elections - September 2017

By 27 November 2017 the Christian Democratic Union led by Chancellor Angela Merkel threw its support behind pursuing a new alliance with the Social Democrats (SPD). Merkel had stressed the importance of a stable German government. SPD leader Martin Schulz, who immediately after his party's poor showing in September elections had rejected the idea of another "grand coalition," meanwhile gave more indications that he is moving away from any rigid position on the issue.

The head of the Christian Social Union — the CDU's Bavarian sister party — also threw his weight behind a "grand coalition." "An alliance of the conservatives and the SPD is the best option for Germany — better anyway than a coalition with the Free Democrats and the Greens, new elections or a minority government," Horst Seehofer told German tabloid Bild am Sonntag.

The SPD's youth branch, the Jusos, or "Young Socialists in the SPD," ended their two-day congress calling for their leaders to move further to the left rather than try out a new grand coalition. Their resolution called for SPD heads to "usher in true alternatives for progressive, solidarity and leftist policy from the opposition."

Germany was thrust into uncertainty 21 November 2017 after a month of four-party exploratory talks about forming a so-called Jamaica coalition – named for each party's respective colors: black, yellow and green – collapsed. The pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) pulled out of make or break negotiations with her Christian Democrats (CDU), Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union (CSU), and the Greens.

  1. Limiting migration numbers had become a contentious political topic across Germany due to the over 2 million migrants who have entered the country since 2015. After much infighting, the CDU and CSU agreed that a new government should pursue a limit of no more than 200,000 people entering Germany for humanitarian reasons. The FDP has proposed an annual target of between 150,000 and 250,000 people.
  2. While all four parties essentially acknowledge Germany's climate protection goals, they disagree greatly over implementation. Whereas the environmentally minded Greens have called for the immediate closure of 20 coal-fired power plants, the CDU/CSU and FDP say the move makes no sense economically and could potentially be dangerous. The Greens remain steadfast in their demands that a Jamaica coalition initiate a phase-out of internal combustion automobiles.
  3. Another issue that flared up was how to structure Germany's European policy. Should the republic continue to work toward broadening the eurozone, even if that might mean a considerable expansion of mutual bailout liability? The FDP is strictly against any future bailout of countries that maneuver themselves into financial dire straits, as was the case with Greece.
  4. The issue of just how much taxpayer money a amaica coalition would be able spend also caused friction. The solidarity surcharge, or so-called "Soli," is a key example. The tax was levied to finance infrastructure and development in former East Germany after reunification, but the FDP is pushing for it to end in 2019. The CDU/CSU says that it wants to incrementally phase out the tax, which pours billions of euros into state coffers each year. However, the Greens want to keep the tax.

After speaking with President Steinmeier, Chancellor Merkel said 21 November 2017 she was ready to lead her party to fresh elections. In the DeutschlandTrend survey conducted for public broadcaster ARD after talks collapsed, 63 percent of respondents said they want fresh elections if a grand coalition cannot be achieved, while 23 percent backed a minority government.

If no majority coalition emerges, Steinmeier is bound by the German constitution to nominate a chancellor for approval by the German parliament, the Bundestag. If no stable government can be formed after three rounds of voting there, the president can then ask Germans to return to the polls.

The Social Democrats (SPD), who were the second-biggest party in the September election, ruled out forming a second consecutive grand coaltion. SPD leader Martin Schulz said his party is "not available" for another coalition with Merkel and the SPD is not afraid of new elections. After suffering a humiliating election loss in September, the SPD has repeatedly reaffirmed that its role in the upcoming Bundestag will be in opposition.

Although the CDU/CSU received the most votes in Germany's national election on September 24, its surprisingly low result (32.9 percent) meant that the conservatives needed the FDP (10.7 percent) and the Greens (8.9 percent) in order to represent over 50 percent of voters.

The CDU party polled around 33 percent of the vote – a loss of almost 10 percent compared to 2013. German Chancellor Angela Merkel secured a fourth consecutive term after her Christian Democrats (CDU) and the allied Christian Social Union (CSU) won the largest parliamentary bloc. Merkel’s conservative bloc was by far the largest parliamentary group, official preliminary results showed.

Their closest rivals, the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), slumped to 20.5 percent – a new post-war low – while the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) finished in third place with 12.6 percent of the vote, securing its first seats in the Bundestag. The result for the anti-immigrant AfD marked by far the strongest showing by a nationalist party in Germany since the NSDAP in World War II, with commentators calling it a "watershed moment" in the history of the German republic. The top-selling Bild daily spoke of a "political earthquake".

The new Bundestag would be larger than ever, with 709 deputies from seven parties. And, as a result of the arrival of the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) and the return of the pro-business liberal Free Democrats (FDP), an unusually large number of parliamentarians are entering the political stage for the first time. This may become confusing, perhaps even unpleasant.

During the era of Germany's greatest post-war political controversies, up until the late 1970s, Germany would regularly log far higher voter turnout than the 76.2 percent of 2017 — an improvement on 2013 and 2009, but still very low by Germany's standards.

The only serious possibility is a three-way coalition consisting of the CDU (black), FDP (yellow) and Green Party (green). This is being referred to as a "Jamaica coalition" after the colors of that country's flag. These are uncharted political waters: It could take quite some time to negotiate the formation of a government.

Building a so-called "Jamaica" coalition with the Greens and Free Democrats looked to be the most likely path to power for Chancellor Angela Merkel. However, such a coalition — so named because the three parties' colors are represented on the Jamaican flag — would pose some major problems. In 2005, when the first grand coalition under Merkel had to be created, government formation took 65 days. The second grand coalition in 2013 took 86.

Despite some recent attempts to tone down the animosity, Greens and Liberals, as the FDP are also known, have a long tradition of sniping at one another - sometimes in sandbox fashion. The Greens, for instance, have produced parodies of FDP campaign posters depicting Liberal top candidate Christian Lindner as a Porsche-driving sunny boy, while Liberals rarely resist mocking Greens as tree-hugging know-it-alls. Old habits die hard. The Greens were founded at a later point and promote non-materialistic goals, while the FDP is more of a party representing older people and the first half of the Federal Republic.

Although somewhat weakened by their worst election showing since 1949, Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives remain the largest party and are looking for coalition partners. SPD leader Martin Schulz said his party would be "a strong opposition force in this country, to defend democracy against those who question it and attack it."

In December 2014 Angela Merkel was re-elected as party chief of the CDU with 97 percent of delegates’ votes. And there was no sign of Merkel fatigue. The chancellor had her sights set on the 2017 parliamentary elections. The conversation switched to whether she would run again in 2017. If she does, she could potentially break former CDU chancellor Helmut Kohl's record of 16 years in office.

Many analysts argue Angela Merkel - in her capacity as German chancellor and head of the conservative Christian Democratic Party (CDU) - is to blame for the AfD's emergence. As party leader in a "Grand Coalition" with the Socialist SPD, Merkel gave the CDU a centrist makeover, leaving space at the right fringes. Merkel's decisions as chancellor, be it the nuclear power phase-out or the discontinuation of compulsory military service, disconcerted voters who saw the pillars of their conservative view of the world shaken to the core.

According to Germany's influential news magazine Der Spiegel, Chancellor Angela Merkel had decided by July 2014 to run for a fourth term in power and had already started talks on who will run her campaign. There’s been no official confirmation yet, but Merkel has already hinted that she would seek re-election. This autumn she celebrates her 10th anniversary as chancellor, and if she is re-elected in 2017 and serves her full four-year term, she will tie with Helmut Kohl - who was also from the CDU party - as the longest-serving chancellor in the history of the Bundesrepublik.

Chancellor Merkel's center-right CDU and CSU drifted toward the left since forming a coalition with the center-left SPD in 2013. That drift left a gap to their right, now filled with party-less voters taken with the AfD, which spoke to their fears of losing their high standard of living, losing their culture to Muslims and losing their political voice at a time when the coalition parties hold nearly 80 percent of seats in parliament.

Germany's leading parties were losing a public relations battle to the right. The latest loss - involving a failed attempt to boycott xenophobia and an utter lack of political savvy by the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens.

Preliminary figures showed that right-wing violence in Germany almost doubled in 2015, compared to 2014. Politicians and activists say the numbers will continue to rise - and 2016 wasn't off to a good start. Authorities registered a total of 13,846 relevant offenses in 2015 - up 3,305 on 2014's provisional reporting.The most famous example of this were the murders committed by the German nationalist terrorist group "National Socialist Underground" (NSU). From 2000 till 2006, the NSU killed nine men, eight of them with Turkish roots, one with Greek roots.

Some CDU chiefs were taking the 2016 election results as a warning, even in victory. "There should be no democratic alternative to the right of the CDU," said Saxony-Anhalt's incumbent state premier Reiner Haseloff on 14 March 2016, who held onto his post. "We cannot keep going as we are," he added.

But who or what should follow Merkel? Looking at the ranks of the CDU though, it was difficult to identify any potential candidates. Among the cabinet ministers, two names had been doing the rounds: Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen and Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere.

During the 2016 local elections, Julia Klöckner in Rhineland-Palatinate made headlines during the campaign for her so-called "Plan A2" for dealing with refugees - a day-quota system that watered down Merkel's refusal to cap refugee numbers. As a result, critics accused her of wavering between support and opposition to Merkel.

The daughter of a local winemaker from the western German town of Guldenthal, Julia Klöckner began her political career at the age of 24 when she joined the CDU's youth arm. Just five years later in 2002, she became a member of the Bundestag - Germany's lower house of parliament - before taking on the role of parliamentary undersecretary in the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection.

Following the CDU's disastrous 2006 state election in Rhineland-Palatinate, the party found a beacon of hope in Klöckner and in September 2010, appointed her as the fraction's leader - bringing a burst of youth to a somewhat antiquated party. Two years later she was elected as the CDU's deputy federal chairwoman. By 2016 surveys showed her running neck-and-neck with SPD candidate and incumbent state Premier Malu Dreyer. A poll released 09 March 2016 showed both politicians receiving 35 percent of voters' support.

Since entering the Bundestag, Klöckner's likability among the CDU electorate had grown enormously - largely thanks to her balancing act between the modern and the conservative. While Klöckner reserved the streak of conservatism that devout CDU voters missed in recent years, she also strived to bring modernity to the party. Her staunch pride for her home region and local dialect also brought her closer to the people, with many of her supporters referring to her with a familiar fondness as "our Julia."

As the 1995/96 "German Wine Queen," the 43-year-old has also used her experience in the media to her advantage, seizing the ongoing refugee crisis to move ever nearer to the CDU's center stage. Klöckner makes no bones about her ambitions and continues to increase her presence in federal politics.

Sigmar Gabriel, party leader, vice-chancellor and economics minister in one, did his best in December 2015 to convince the 600 Party congress delegates that the SPD – Chancellor Angela Merkel's junior partners in the grand coalition government - was indeed about to emerge from the shadow of its coalition partners. In 2017, when German voters head to the polls again, the SPD would emerge as the winner, Gabriel vowed as delegates cheered: "We want to rule Germany again, and not just as part of a coalition."

According to pollsters, Forschungsgruppe Wahlen, published on 11 December 2015, only 24 percent of voters support the SPD – the lowest level in the last nine months and barely more than in the 2009 elections when support for the party dropped to 23 percent, the SPD's worst in post-war Germany.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel came under renewed pressure over her liberal refugee policy 05 September 2016 after an upstart anti-migrant populist party handed her party a humiliating defeat in her home state. The xenophobic Alternative for Germany (AfD) clinched around 22 percent in its first bid for seats in the regional parliament of Mecklenburg-Western Vorpommern, results showed after most ballots had been counted from Sunday polls. Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) garnered just 19 percent in its worst ever score in the northeastern state, while the Social Democrats maintained top place with around 30 percent.

In the sprawling farming and coastal state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, where economic regeneration and jobs used to be residents' top concerns, the issue of refugees and integration became the deciding factor for one in two voters. Compared to other parts of Germany, the northeastern state hosts just a small proportion of migrants under a quota system based on states' income and population – having taken in 25,000 asylum seekers. Most of them have already decided to abandon the state, preferring to head "where there are jobs, people and shops.




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