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Sunday, September 18, 2005

No One Knows Why, Or Who, Or How

Somehow these two stories seem to belong together. The first is that tough conditions forced the nude swimmers in Loch Ness to stop their stunt after one lap:
One lap of Loch Ness was barely tolerable, but two more proved too much Saturday for a group of nude swimmers who surrendered to bad weather.

The four men and two women, taking turns of an hour each, began their charity stunt Friday night and completed their first 23-mile lap Saturday morning. And that was all, as temperatures sank and winds rose.
I'm just trying to imagine how on earth this was supposed to raise money for charity. Perhaps it was really supposed to be a charity for Nessie in case she was hungry. Purposeless, and bizarre! Those two words also describe the German election, which pitted a lesbian erstwhile physicist from East Germany named Angela Merkel of the Christian Democrats against Gerhard Schroeder of the Social Democrats. At the current time, the results show the CDU/CSU coalition beating the SPD by the whomping margin of 1.1%.

Spiegel seems confused by this. Will Angela Merkel be the next chancellor? Gerhard sagt nein! Angela sagt ja!

Americans might suspect that the sexual orientation of the Christian Democratic leaders had something to do with them dumping a lead that once approached 20 points. But no. Nor did the physicist thing have anything to do with it, although it certainly would in the US. There is absolutely no way that anyone who was once a scientist would ever stand a chance of the presidency in the US. We elected a washed up engineer once, and we are still twitching at the memory. If only Jimmy were still in a nuclear sub, far away from the international community....

What really happened is that the CDU/CSU coalition ran on a reform platform. Angela had picked up Paul Kirchhoff who used to be Finance Minister, and someone leaked part of Kirchoff's actual list of reform possibilities. This was shortly followed by a collapse in the polls. Germans were hardly thrilled by the idea that reform would mean further cuts in social programs.

Here is something in English about the vote:
Current forecasts indicate that the CDU would have 220 seats in the Bundestag, the SPD 213 seats, the FDP 62, the Left Party 53 and the Greens 50.

Even worse for Merkel's CDU, her party looks to have received its third-worst result in its history and is far behind even its less-than-impressive 38.5 percent in the 2002 elections. Now, she must start the process of casting about for coalition partners. On Sunday evening, an obviously disappointed Merkel said she would begin talks with all of the major parties except for the Left Party. CDU, she said, is Germany's "strongest power and has clearly received the mandate" to form a government.

Yet even as Merkel has claimed victory, Schröder has so far refused to concede anything. Speaking to a raucous gathering of party members in Berlin, Schröder called out, "I feel validated that the next four years will also see a stable government under my leadership." Given the narrow margin currently separating him from Merkel, he could very well be right. The question now is what Germany's next government might look like.
So you see, this may have accomplished nothing at all, and everyone is certain that the winning party was actually the loser:
Whichever constellation of parties ends up governing Germany, it seems clear that Sunday's major loser is Angela Merkel. As recently as June, her party looked as though it might even achieve an absolute majority of over 50 percent. The catastrophic fall to Sunday night's result of just over 35 percent will likely be seen by many as Merkel's personal failure. Throughout her campaign, she has been accused of being too passive and her strategy of honesty -- which included telling voters they can expect a sales tax increase of 2 percent under her leadership among other painful reforms -- was not well received by Germany's voters. Her appointment of Paul Kirchhof to her campaign team as finance expert -- an appointment made against the opposition of many in her own party -- likewise cost her votes. Voters were skeptical of Kirchhof's support for a 25 percent flat tax for Germany.
Keep Schroeder's appeal to the Turks in mind as well. Merkel had met with Sarkozy in France last year and has maintained her opposition to Turkey being admitted to the EU. Here is the Spiegel blog. Leipzig hasn't voted yet. The best guess is that we won't know the makeup of the new government for 2 or 3 weeks. Die Zeit.

My money is on Schroeder gaining the upper hand. It is obvious that the Germans reject a really reformist government. The Left party gained the most. The German people's beef with Schroeder was that they wanted both jobs and more social programs, whereas he was trying small reforms and not doing well on the jobs.


Comments:
And people wonder why politicians don't tell the truth. Fact is, unfortunately, promising the impossible is a proven vote-winner.
 
That's definitely one lesson that could be drawn from this.

I don't think Merkel was wrong to run on a campaign which suggested real reform. It's doubtful she could have been an effective chancellor if she hadn't.

On the other hand, it leaves me wondering what Schroeder has left in his bag? The problems remain, and he may have no option within a few years but to adopt the flat tax and so forth.
 
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