Wounded Social Democrats stagger into German election

Wounded Social Democrats stagger into German election

24th September 2009, Comments 0 comments

Demoralised and divided, Germany's oldest party is in serious trouble after 11 bruising years in power in two different coalitions, with even the country's federation of trade unions refusing to offer its traditional support.

Stuttgart -- Germany's centre-left Social Democrats are limping towards what could be their worst postwar election result this Sunday, opinion polls suggest, condemning them to a period in opposition.

Demoralised and divided, Germany's oldest party is in serious trouble after 11 bruising years in power in two different coalitions, with even the country's federation of trade unions refusing to offer its traditional support.

When the SPD's Gerhard Schroeder was first elected chancellor in 1998, the party won 40.9 percent of the national vote. This time around, opinion polls indicate it is on course to notch up something like 25 percent.

In contrast, Chancellor Angela Merkel's centre-right Christian Democrats (CDU), the SPD's current partners in an unhappy "grand coalition," are riding high in the polls at between 35-39 percent.

And with surveys indicating that Merkel will be able to ditch the SPD and instead form a government with the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) after the election on September 27, a period of opposition for the SPD looms.

"It's all over," Wolfgang, 50, told AFP at a party rally in the southern city of Stuttgart last week, a gathering marked by a distinct whiff of resignation.
AFP PHOTO DDP / MICHAEL KAPPELER
German Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) and German Finance minister Peer Steinbrueck (SPD) address a joint press conference on 21 September 2009 at the chancellory in Berlin, after they had talks about the "new financial archicture"

"If we score 28 percent it will be amazing," agreed civil servant Sybille Kirschbaum, 54, worse than the SPD's postwar record low of 28.8 percent recorded back in 1953, the year before Merkel was born.

The party's problems date in part back to Schroeder's time in office from 1998 to 2005, when he governed in a coalition with the ecologist Greens that introduced a barrage of painful social security and labour market reforms.

These were seen among many of the party's rank and file as a betrayal of the SPD's socialist principles, sending many into the arms of what in a short space of time has become a new force in national politics: the far-left Die Linke.

This new party, a collection of disaffected SPD members and former communists from the old East Germany, is now represented in 11 of Germany's 16 state parliaments and is polling at around 12 percent nationally.

It has also poached SPD voters by being the only party calling for an immediate withdrawal of Germany's 4,200 troops in Afghanistan -- a deployment that begun under Schroeder and which the SPD continues to support.

The SPD works with Die Linke to form state coalitions, but at federal level the party leadership has made it clear that this is taboo.

Governing with Merkel has also made it hard for the SPD to score points against the CDU, even with Germany crippled by its worst recession since 1945 -- something that normally could be expected to boost the left.

AFP PHOTO DDP / MICHAEL GOTTSCHALK
A sample election ballot is photographed in front of the Reichstag, the building which houses the German lower house of parliament (Bundestag) in Berlin on 22 September 2009. Some 62 million Germans are eligible to vote on September 27 in an election that will decide who governs Europe's most populous nation and biggest economy for the next four years.

This problem is nowhere more evident than when it comes to the SPD's candidate to replace Merkel, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, deputy chancellor and foreign minister in the "grand coalition."

"Government successes are attributed to Merkel,” said political scientist Nils Diederich, “not to Steinmeier.”

Audrey Kaufmann/AFP/Expatica

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