German Federal Election 2017: The Sad Punchline

Nobody expected a surprise going into the German Federal Election, but everyone expected a scandal. With every passing week leading up to the election weekend, people knew Angela Merkel was unlikely to lose her mandate and achieve the fourth term as chancellor of Germany.

German Federal Election Results

At the same time, people were confident the far-right party AFD would, for the first time, go beyond the 5% threshold and gain seats in parliament. In the end, the CDU (Conservatist) won with 32,9% followed by the SPD (Social Democrats) with 20,5%, the AFD (Right-Wing) with 12,6% and the FDP (Liberal), Die Linke (Left-Wing), and Die Grüne (Green) all floating around 10%.

Looking back at the election last Sunday, it was exactly what people expected — a sad punchline to an underwhelming German Federal Election. But why? Mainly because all the main parties never seemed to bother making a fresh impression beforehand. Everyone went back to the old rhetoric, promising tax cuts, promising social reforms, promising anything in unison. And that was exactly the problem. Though Germany has a vast array of different parties on offer, they overlap quite significantly making them feel indiscernible in certain areas. Apart from the outermost political spectrums, all parties have similar economic concepts and, looking back at the past terms, those are the ones mostly agreed upon.

Social Issues Unresolved

Social issues, on the other hand, have been discussed at length, and while the main points are agreed upon by all the main parties, those are the topics are usually left behind after an election. Germans were bombarded with shallow promises of making care-related jobs more appealing to close the gap in elderly care, as well as improving pensions, especially for stay-at-home mothers. This may have been the point where the SPD lost quite a bit of their credibility going into the German Federal Election, having failed to make a social impact in the past four years as part of the ruling coalition.

Advocating future changes that were needed years ago although they were part of the ruling government, did not sit well with many of their voters. The SPD proactively declared they would not be part of a ruling coalition this time around, but rather lead the opposition and rebuild the party led by Martin Schulz. Probably the best call in their own interest.

Their decision will make the process of building a coalition difficult for Merkel and the CDU. With the SPD out of the picture and the AFD as well as Die Linke off limits, there is only the possibility of building a so-called coalition with the FDP and Die Grünen. It will be interesting to see how many compromises Angela Merkel is willing to make to secure her fourth term in office and what implications this may have for the next four years. The chances are that we won’t see too much of a mix-up in German politics as those parties do have several shared values and opinions.

The German Federal Election Scandal That Wasn’t One

Instead of exploring what mistakes were made by the two major parties to lose many votes compared to the last German Federal Election, the main story of the evening was the AFD. The right-wing party benefitted from several things, one of which was surely the lacking variety on certain topics within the established party construct, while the other may have been a general sense of frustration among certain groups of citizens. The AFD became the epitome of EU-scepticism and rejection of the refugee policies put in place by Angela Merkel.

The turnout of the AFD could’ve arguably been even higher than it was considering the quite sizeable uprising against Merkel’s policies and her party’s move to the left since the last German Federal Election. Among many little things, there is a noticeable arrogance among all established parties towards the AFD, trying to delegitimize and denounce them and their members whenever possible. This is what may, in fact, has helped them more than anything else. Playing the role of a political victim concerned about diversity in a hopelessly one-sided democracy has done them great favors.

That coupled with the fact that most major parties are arguing and working into a similar direction has made the Alternative For Germany actually without alternatives. It is, thankfully, the only party of its kind stealing votes from other parties and swaying previous non-voters, but at the same time, one has to remember that we are talking about a far-right party here, the first one in several decades to even gain a single seat in the parliament. This party now has more than 80.

An Opportunity That Could Go Either Way

Like all things this “scandal”, if we want to call it, has been looming over Germany’s head for quite a while now and nobody can act surprised that the AFD gained double digits this German Federal Election. After all, it is not a phenomenon caused by a single mistake but the failure of several subsequent decisions. The citizens’ fault, for not recognize what they’re voting for and the established parties’ fault for not making enough of an effort.

The inclusion of the AFD on such a large scale in the opposition may be important and beneficial though, for two reasons. First of all pushing the established parties out of their comfort zone and encouraging more daring political endeavors to build a more diverse political landscape and to provide meaningful and true alternatives. Secondly, the voters may get a more and prolonged exposure to the AFD in real political context and may, hopefully, see them for what they truly are. Then again, if that doesn’t work, they may even come out stronger next election than this one. If there’s one thing that they do best, then it’s capitalizing on someone else’s mistake.

About Andreas Salmen

Born and raised in Germany, learned a job in IT and Business and ultimately decided that this wasn't exactly where my life was going to end. Left everything behind to become a writing backpacker instead. The world's crumbling away anyway so why not write about it and get a few good Instagram pics on the way, am I right?

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