Germans head to the polls Sunday in a parliamentary vote that will determine whether Angela Merkel remains chancellor for a fourth term.
Polls suggest Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and its sister party, the Christian Social Union, will be the largest party after the election but will fall short of a majority.
Kurt Huebner, professor of European studies and former chair of the Institute for European Studies at UBC, discusses how Merkel has managed to remain chancellor for three terms and possible outcomes for a coalition government.
Merkel appears poised to win a fourth term as chancellor, extending her reign to 16 years. How has she managed to remain popular with voters after so many years?
Merkel is likely on her way to becoming the next eternal chancellor, after Konrad Adenauer and Helmut Kohl. As leaders of the Christian Democratic Union party, they all share a policy style of “no experiments,” which was even the party’s slogan in the 1957 election. In turbulent times, German voters prefer to stick to the status quo, and Merkel is a master of managing status quo-policies as rational, balanced and fair. She is a smart political operator who over the years not only destroyed all potential competitors inside her party but also successfully claimed successes of her various coalition governments.
The only time Merkel has stepped outside her political comfort zone and neglected her strong political instincts was her decision to declare Germany open for migrants. After a brief period celebrating a welcoming culture in Germany, Merkel experienced a huge downward slide in her popularity. Still, she was able to disconnect herself from the thorny issue of immigration in this election campaign.
What are the most pressing issues for German voters in this election?
The vast majority of voters seem to be happy, and for good reason given the extremely low level of unemployment, the state of public finances, export performance, and a high international reputation. Still, immigration remains a central issue. Even though the number of legal and illegal immigrants and asylum seekers is down significantly due to containment policies from Merkel and her grand coalition, all other relevant parties have become strong supporters of much more rigid asylum and immigration practices.
If Merkel is re-elected, what will that mean for Germany in the months to come?
Pollsters have been proven wrong the last couple of years, but her party’s lead is so large that one safely can expect Merkel will keep her job. The real question is with whom she will govern, which will determine the political course of the next four years.
There are a few possible coalition scenarios: The Free Democrats (FDP) are widely seen as a natural coalition partner. But this would create problems when it comes to European Union and Eurozone policies as the FDP is rejecting Merkel’s approach to re-designing the architecture of European integration. We might also see a grand coalition with the Social Democratic Party (SDP). If the SDP vote share falls below the 2013 record (25.7 per cent), then the probability is high that the party would become the official opposition party. But if the SPD decides to stay in government, the right-wing Alternative for Germany party would become the third largest party, as some pollsters predict, and a far-right anti-immigration party could become the official opposition. That worries many voters.
Whatever the coalition government will look like, any Merkel government will stay the course and move along a path that prefers stability to change.
On Monday, Sept. 25, UBC is hosting a panel discussion on the German election results with UBC political scientists Antje Ellermann, Kurt Huebner and Richard Johnston, and SFU political scientist Steven Weldon. The panel will be chaired by UBC sociology professor Rima Wilkes and runs 12:15 p.m. – 1:30 p.m. at Room 120, C.K. Choi Building for the Institute of Asian Research.