German Cliff-Hanger: Merkel Wins Big, but Everyone Could Lose

In Germany's election, the voters have spoken. We just don't yet know exactly what they've said

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Michael Sohn / AP

German Chancellor Angela Merkel looks up when addressing supporters after preliminary election results were announced at the party headquarters in Berlin, Sept. 22, 2013.

The voters have spoken. We just don’t yet know exactly what they’ve said. Exit polls and the evidence of the first results in Germany’s national parliamentary elections suggest that two-term Chancellor Angela Merkel has won a significant victory, perhaps even a truly historic one. Some projections suggest her conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), are on course for an overall majority, the first time since 1957 that Germans have given their mandate to a single party or bloc. And even if the final tally thwarts a Merkel miracle, it’s clear that voters have given her a resounding endorsement. They want Merkel to lead the country, as she has done for almost eight years. But they don’t want her government back.

Her coalition partners, the Free Democrats (FDP), have also notched up a potentially historic result: they may fail to reach the 5% threshold needed to enter the German Parliament, the Bundestag. Rainer Brüderle, the party’s lead candidate in the elections, described the result as a “dark hour” for his party, but the FDP’s nightmare will almost certainly last a lot longer than an hour. The Greens, now touted as a possible alternative coalition partner for Merkel, have also performed below expectations, polling something over 8% of the vote. The left-wing splinter party, Die Linke — the Left — seems to have done a bit better, but is unlikely to be invited to join a coalition. Like the Alternative für Deutschland — the Alternative for Germany — a Euroskeptic party that on its first national outing appears to have outpolled the FDP, Die Linke’s biggest impact will have been to take votes away from bigger parties.

The most likely outcome remains a grand coalition of Merkel’s CDU/CSU and her largest rivals, the Social Democrats (SPD). Merkel helmed a grand coalition in her first term in which Peer Steinbrück, her main challenger for the role of Chancellor, served as Finance Minister. He has ruled out a return to government in a new grand coalition, but that doesn’t mean his colleagues will refuse an invitation to negotiate. Speaking after polls closed, Merkel indicated she wouldn’t try to run a minority government if her bloc failed to secure an outright win. At this stage in what looks set to be a long night, the smart euros must be on another grand coalition.

But Germany’s intricate voting system, which seeks to make every vote count by creating extra parliamentary seats over and above the 598 notional total of Bundestag members, could yet deliver shocks and surprises. The last Parliament ended up with 22 extra seats or “overhang mandates.”

And it’s too early to tell if Merkel may actually have squeaked a majority of one or two seats. If she has, that might be the toughest result for her and the least satisfactory for everyone looking to Germany for leadership as the euro zone staggers from one crisis to the next. A narrow victory, leaving Merkel in thrall to the machinations of party colleagues and damaging her ability to take tough decisions, could make us all losers.

20 comments
dineshjoshi70
dineshjoshi70

@Bill_George Absolutely ! After Margaret Thatcher the Iron Lady of UK, Angela Merkel will be Iron Lady of Europe and get its success back.

BarryButtBoy
BarryButtBoy

The labor and liberals were defeated soundly in germany, austrailia and Norway!! 3 in 2 weeks.. liberals has died in austrialia.. they eleimiated global warming sundays and repaled the1st carbon tax...LOL..USA is next..clean out all the progressives and keep them unemployed so they can see what it is like without free money for a change..lazy american liberals

Ocsicnarf
Ocsicnarf

I don't see the bitterness in the bittersweet victory for Angela Merkel. Of course is bitter for the Liberals. But the Christian Democrats have nearly reached an absolute majority. Well as everyone in the world would like to participate in electing the US president (due to his/her role in the world), all Europeans would have liked to choose the Chancellor. But no chance. Well Angie please be sensitive and rule without abuse. Good luck!

wm_rae
wm_rae

@TIME disagree, stability ... continuity for EU, she has the big 'kugelans' to take on anti-austerity governments in EU.

PepePinguita2
PepePinguita2

Winston Churchill summarized it best when he said: "Socialism is a philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy, its inherent virtue is the equal sharing of misery".  How many times does socialism have to fail before people wake up and realize it?

HajrijeH
HajrijeH

@TIME I SO HAPPY FOR HER GOD THANK YOU THE MERKEL IS @goodwinds09 FOR GJERMANY ANDE FOR EUROPE THE BESTE LIDER.

BlagaGrueva
BlagaGrueva

@Ivan_Petrov Да, никой не предполагаше че FDP няма да влезнат...

Ocsicnarf
Ocsicnarf

I'm sorry for the Liberals. Socialdems choose a candidate to lose.

thecrud
thecrud

 "her a resounding endorsement." In America some how that would mean the other party should get their way not who the people elected.

Cameron.C
Cameron.C

@PepePinguita2 Don't use words or pretend to understand concepts you clearly do not grasp. Germany is doing extremely well, thanks to a dynamite combination of well-regulated free enterprise, strategic government investment in society, and a generous social safety net that ensures a fair, just and prosperous society, where people are treated like human beings and not dispensable cogs in a dejected machine serving at the altar of deluded ideology.

Ivan_Petrov
Ivan_Petrov

@BlagaGrueva Те си бяха на ръба даже и в предварителните проучвания... Виж сега комунистите имат много голям процент, това е проблем...

dave.bit15
dave.bit15

@Cameron.C @PepePinguita2 What if is you the one who can't "grasp"? Socialism is indeed a philosophy of failure, and when applied in small doses produces also small failures. Germany (as Sweden, Denmark and all the other poster countries for the so-called "progressives") were very successful applying free market policies, and the gradual socialization has done nothing but make them less successful. But of course, you are too arrogant to even consider that as a possibility...

Ivan_Petrov
Ivan_Petrov

@ZeldaRose @BlagaGrueva То и след 4 никой не знае какво е истинското положение. С такава complicated system =)

dave.bit15
dave.bit15

@Cameron.C Sure, that's precisely why Merkel won in a lanslide. And Sweden reversed in the late nineties many of its socialist policies. And the left is failing in Greece and Spain.

Ask Greek workers what is going to happen with their "secure pensions" and their "intact healthcare", now that Merkel has been re-elected. It seems the hard-working Germans don't want to pay for Greece socialism, how inconsiderate, don't you think?


IndividualFreedom
IndividualFreedom

@Cameron.C 

Go live in one of those countries if you think it is what you want.  You need to learn to ask the correct questions...why is education so high(dig really deep here)? Why are health costs so high (dig very deep here)? If you really do your homework you will find our government's rules/regulations at the heart of it.  I am all about a government protecting the individual but our government protects businesses' profits and uses the poor and helpless as a cover to do so...both sides do this.

Cameron.C
Cameron.C

@dave.bit15 @Cameron.C @PepePinguita2

Frustration with the reality-averse begets condescension. In all of those "poor, misguided" countries you feel pity for, especially in Germany, the world's third/fourth largest economy no less, their citizens will abandon their lifestyles when you pry them from their cold dead hands, because they understand the meaning of living with dignity, and how you aren't truly free unless you are liberated from the weight of fundamental yet perfectly avoidable worries - having to choose between crushing debt and an education;  losing your home over a hospital bill;  risking your physical and mental well-being by avoiding taking a holiday for fear of losing your job, etc. 

While you and your buddies subscribing to a Cold War mindset scream "Socialist!!", the Germans (and Swedes, and Danes, and Norwegians, and French, and Canadians...) will be laughing all the way to Mallorca, their pensions secure, their healthcare intact, their education system functioning, their middle class thriving, and their societies wealthy, content and productive. Join us in the 21st century, won't you?