German Mid-term Elections 2005
Following the loss in state elections in Nord-Rhein Westphalia in April-2005, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's SPD party decided to call a confidence vote in the German parliament, paving way for a general election in September the same year. As I write this log, elections are less than 30 days away and the summer in Germany has been anything but usual, a usually relaxed month with most people in vacation, converted to a dull month of rains and bad weather and remarkable frenzy of political activity.
The SPD (Socialists) and CDU/CSU (Conservatives) have crossed swords. SPD's mandate is squarely based on the Agenda 2010, whereby the purpose of the reforms is to shape up Germany into facing the challenges posed by the extraordinary phenomena facing every economy on this planet, called Globalization.
Indeed Germany is a little unprepared for this phenomena - the prime weakness being the cost of labor and production in the country. People enjoy a high standard of life compared to other western democracies, with a relatively well funded public health, transport, pension and education systems. These are paid for in part by business owners and in part by the working class, both of course in form of taxes, converted to social & infrastructure expenditure. Globalization has however stressed this regime, where by competing economies from Asia simply don't have those national costs and thereby are able to deliver comparable production capabilities, at lower cost, and are hence prove competitive - at least in markets where purchasing price is a determining factor.
Another issue that has been generally perceived as long-term challenge facing the nation is the trend of drop in population growth rates and simultaneous increase in life expectancy. This has had several social and economic fallbacks. For one thing the pension system is being over-stressed with those paying into their pension funds today not being adequately certain that when it is their turn to draw pensions there is enough money in the fund to withdraw. Similarly with lower birth rates, there is a perceived threat that there will in future be not an adequate work-force to power the economy and the need will arise to import labor - unskilled and skilled alike.
The goal hence for the country is to readjust itself to shed off the weaknesses and capitalize on it's strengths, without giving up the accumulated success of many years in developing the standard of life. In the mid-term elections of 2005, both SPD and CDU/CSU are promising the public the same - to preserve the social benefits and , however concrete plans are not always explained well.
Schröder's Agenda-2010 is miles ahead in counting as well developed content of an election mandate, offering a clearly documented plan, which has been partly implemented between years 2003-05. Highlights of the program can be summarized as below:
- Provide young couples incentives to raise families
- Move unemployed working people, who have so far been dependent of the state for unemployment benefits to independence from the state and low-income category (Hartz IV)
- Others.. See www.spd.de or follow the "Links" section to right.
To be continued...
Update - 25/08/05
Schröder in Esslingen
We went to watch Gerhard Schröder in Esslingen, a suburb of Stuttgart. He was electric in a crowd of some 10,000 giving clear arguments on why the SPD deserves to retain power. We are now some 24 days from election day - and the socialists seem to be gaining new ground every day.
Highlights of the Esslingen speech were:
- A stong emphasis on the external pressures on the German economy, which are the trigger for the reform program.
- Claim that the country is indeed in good standing, inspite of the ugly statistic of 5 million unemployed people and CDU/CSU's persistent campaign that the country is in dogs
- Clear warning against voting for the extreme-left (Lafontaine/Giesy coalition) and the nationalist/fascist NPD
- Some attacks on CDU/CSU that they are bent on taking the economy into (U.S style) extreme capitalism
- Attack on CDU/CSU that they will pledge German troops for US wars around the world.
The TV Debate
The key single TV debate (there were supposed to be 2, but Merkel refused the 2nd, supposedly fearing outperformance by the master-debater Schröder) is going to be on 4th September, and the nation will be watching anxiously to form a visual image of their future chancellor.
This past week was a major setback to the SPD with CDU/CSU revitalizing their media campaign. CDU pulled off a couple of remarkable stunts on TV by gaining coverage for their Parteitag (Party Convention) and a PR exercise in Berlin demonstrating solidarity between the CDU, CSU and FDP. One other impressive stunt was to nominate Siemens star Heinrich von Pierer to a cabinet post responsible for cooperation between industry and government. It was a brilliant stroke which declared the credentials of a CDU/CSU governement even before one was formed.
Indeed this whole week made us focus on the deficiencies of the SPD government (not Schroeder himself in person). The public was sought to think about the likes of Hans Eichel, Wolfgang Clement and others who one might argue tried to a do a good job, but didn't succeed in key performance indicators such as reducing budget deficit and the unemployment rate.
Schroeder kept up his struggle and fighting spirit at every media opportunity and won good remarks. However one pre-poll suggested that his chances against Merkel for the highest office stand at 21 to 75, and it is becoming hard to believe such a gap can be closed in the remaining 15 days of the campaign.
On the night of 4th September the much waited TV debate between Schröder and Merkel went live to 20 million TV audiences.
In my opinion it was a hands-down victory for Merkel. She took an offensive postion blaming the chancellor for aledged lapses in government and came out with an excellent performance. Schröder succummed to this attack and from the beginning let himself be forced into a defence. The good news is that Schröder didn't lose any points in public opinion for his performance. But the bad news is that Merkel gained significant praise for her part. She did indeed succeed in showing the public how her stage-performance would be if she were to be the next chancellor of Germany.
On issues such as economy, jobs, family and health politics there was actually no new content presented. Both reiterated their messages that were to be heard at every campaign speech.
Overall, this week Merkel gained ground. There is now just one week (8 days) before the show-down and the political wind is apparently blowing behind Merkel's back.
Update 18th September, 2005
It's Election Day! - Germany goes to polls on this cold and sunny Sunday. Inspite of the uncertainities of past weeks - SPD and CDU/CSU are approaching the finish line neck-to-neck. Particularly strong showing is expected by the Leftists (Lafontaine-Giesy coalition) - between 7-9%. The net loosers this time may actually be the Greens, as it just doesn't seem like people are going to the polls for the sake of issues contested by them (6-8%).
Some commentries predicted the election to hinge on the student vote - roughly about 500,000.
Either way, we should know by tomorrow!
18th Sep. 21.00 (evening of election results)
Still about 10% of results to be declared, and SPD is at 34.2% against CDU/CSU 35.0% (Greens 8.2%, FDP 10.2%, Leftists 8.7%). There is a complicated situation that has developed with the bigger parties giving ground to smaller parties. SPD is showing plenty of jubilation for having survived nightmare scenarios. Maximum credit goes to Gerhard Schöder personally, for keeping up the fight in wake of depressive political currents against the SPD. Inspite of the 34.2%, it feels like a landslide for SPD tonight.
Looking ahead, it's all about what coalition will form the next government. Following combinations are being discussed.
SPD + Green + Left
CDU/CSU + Green + FDP (Jamaica Coalition / color of Jamaican flag)
SPD + Greed + FDP (Ampelkoalition = Traffic-light Coalition)
The determining factors for the winning coalition will be 1. Compatibility of election mandates 2. Who occupies the seat of the Chancellor.