Elections in Germany Landslide Defeat for Kohl - Victory for the Left

A historic defeat for chancellor Kohl and a clear victory for the left are the most outstanding features of the German election on September 27. After exactly 16 years of Kohl in office, German workers and youth said: enough is enough. German is now likely to be governed by a coalition of Social Democrats and Greens. Hans Gerd Ofinger analyses the implications from Germany.

A historic defeat for chancellor Kohl and a clear victory for the left are the most outstanding features of the German election on September 27. After exactly 16 years of Kohl in office, German workers and youth said: enough is enough. German is now likely to be governed by a coalition of Social Democrats and Greens.

The dimension of Kohl´s defeat is reflected by the fact that his Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) scored just over 35% of the votes cast, thus getting their worst result in nearly 50 years of the Federal Republic with the exception of the 1949 election. Since the 1950es, the Christian democrats had always scored well over 40% of the votes.

On the other hand, the Social Democrats (SPD) scored 40.9%. If you add the 5.1 % of votes cast for the PDS, the former East German Communist Party, you get the best election result for the traditional workers parties of any German parliamentary elections: 46.0%, compared with 45.5% for the two workers parties in the elections of 1919 and 44.9% for the SPD in 1972 when they celebrated a triumph under the leadership of Willy Brandt. In the new Bundestag, the two left parties together are only two seats short of an overall majority.

Until election day, opinion polls tended to predict a neck to neck race between the two big parties and the two political camps. After their victory in the Bavarian state elections just two weeks before the national election where the Christian Democrats had defended their overall majority and the SPD had suffered losses, Kohl, big business and his party followers displayed more and more enthusiasm and confidence as to the possibility of maintaining their coalition with the liberal Free Democrats (FDP) in power. However, the threat of yet another four years under Kohl´s coalition and more cuts in the welfare state mobilised many voters - workers and youth - in the very last minute. The participation in the election rose from 79.0 to 82.3%. It is obvious that since 1996, the social climate has changed considerably. In June 1996, 350.000 trade unionists demonstrated against the dismantling of the welfare state. In autumn 1997, students spontaneously protested against cuts and problems in education, a movement that surprised many. Since February, 1998, there has been a movement of unemployed which was encouraged by the example of France. Against this background, the trade union federation (DGB) started a campaign for a fundamental change in German home policy in favour of working people.

Out of 328 constituencies, the SPD took 212, the Christian Democrats held only 112, and the PDS defended their four seats they had won last time. On the basis of the peculiarities of the German system of proportional represantation, the prospective coaliton of SPD and Greens can lean on a majority of 21 seats even without the PDS deputies. SPD leader Schröder had repeatedly declared that he would not accept being elected chancellor with the votes of the PDS and in such a case he would rather go for a Grand Coalition with the Christian democrats.

With the exception of Bavaria, the Christian Democrats got clearly less than 40% in all the 16 federal states including their traditional strongholds of Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate. In the East, the former DDR, the combined left vote was well above the national average. Here, the mood has changed drastically since 1990 as the majority have realised that Kohl´s promises of creating flourishing areas have turned out to be lies. With unemployment well over 20% many areas are becoming desaster areas. Some commentators compare the East to the Italian ³Mezzogiorno".

It is for the first time ever in the post war history that a government majority was completely defeated in an election by the combined opposition. It is for the first time that the SPD dominate the government and parliamant (Bundestag), the Bundesrat (second chamber) at the same time, and the new Bundestag majority will also give the SPD the decisive majority in the Bundesversammlung, the assembly which is to elect the new president next spring. With this election result, out of 15 countries in the EU, there are only two left without the involvement of left/workers´ parties, while the left have 10 out of 15 heads of government.

According to a first series of analyses, the SPD has massively gained from the Christian Democrats as well as from the camp of non-voters. In the East, there was an additional swing from the Christian Democrats to the PDS. The issues of unemployment and social questions in general dominated the election and brought about the downfall of a government that had promised for 16 years to eliminate unemployment by means of monetarist policies and gifts to the rich. Against the background of officially four million unemployed (in reality the level is rather between six and seven million job seekers) Kohl´s desparate attempt to claim that a new economic boom had just started and the warnings of employers´ federations that a ³red-green" victory would destroy the economic growth failed.

Against the background of a clear polarisation between two political camps whcih reflected class polarisation, the different brands of fascist and rascist parties who have rich backers and spent millions in the campaign, did not score any success at all. In the Eastern state of Sachsen-Anhalt, where the extreme right wing DVU scored 13% in the state elections last April, they were down to 3% this time. In the Eastern state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern on the baltic coast, where the neo-fascist NPD concentrated all their forces and tried to win a social basis by means of traditional Nazi phrasemongering with some anti-capitalist demagogy, they were clearly defeated and scored just 1 per cent - in spite of the fact that their audacious hooliganism was displayed to intimidate inhabitants of rural counties and election campaign acitivists of the left. Of course, if the new government should fail to deliver the goods, these right wing extremists could still attract unemployed youth here and there.

In the election campaign, many observers were reminded of American type methods. In fact, SPD leader Gerhard Schröder and his election machinery tried to copy as much as possible from Clinton and Blair. While party and union activists were hoping to get all the bourgeois ministers out of the government, Schröder was desparate to find a real bourgeois, a real entrepreneur to join his shadow cabinet as a prospective minister of the economy. But Jost Stollmann, a 43-year-old software millionaire, enraged many trade unionists when he distanced himself from those few concrete sections of the SPD election manifesto that promised to reverse some of the worst cuts carried out by the Kohl government. Whatever Stollman said, the heads of the employers´ federations, BDI, BDA, and DIHT, continued to support Kohl. Towards the end of the election campaign, Schröder in his mass rallies laid a heavier emphasis on social questions and those few corresponding election promises to the benefit of working people that were denounced by the employers as ³turning the clock back".

There will be a certain honeymoon period for the new government after such a long period. But very soon, the new government will be under enormous pressure from different sides. While the employers have already threatened that measures like the re-introduction of the sick pay would destroy jobs, trade union activists will demand more drastic measures than those few points outlined in the SPD election manifesto. Kohl leaves behind a legacy of high unemployment and high state indebtedness (the interest payment alone in the federal government budget amounts to 80 billion DM a year). The boom is coming to an end, and the prospect of a world recession affecting Germany and Europe will mean turbulences for the new government. A crisis of all political parties and a class polarisation of the SPD will be on the order of the day.

SPD: 40.9%
CDU/CSU: 35.1%
Greens: 6.7%
FDP 6.2%
PDS: 5.1%