German elections: Right wing defeated - but only a short honeymoon for Schr

Edmund Stoiber, a leading reactionary Christian Democratic leader was defeated in the German elections last Sunday, though by a narrow margin. There was a sigh of relief on the part of many SPD activists, trade unionists and youth up and down the country. The threat of a Stoiber victory mobilised the SPD and green vote, but against the background of a severe economic crisis, all sorts of conflicts will open up, and major disappointment and anger on the part of workers and youth will be on the order of the day.

Edmund Stoiber, a leading reactionary Christian Democratic leader and Bavarian prime minister was defeated in the German elections last Sunday - though by a narrow margin. It was the most interesting and thrilling election night ever in German "post war" history as it took hours until there was certainty on all TV channels that Schröder's coalition of Social Democrats and Greens could secure enough seats to continue for another parliamentary term. Whereas many TV journalists had speculated for hours that there could be a hung parliament or even a narrow right wing majority, in the end Schröder had a small but decisive majority of 306 seats as against 295 for the traditional bourgeois parties (Christian Democrats and Liberals), with the east German PDS (ex CP) being reduced to merely two seats.

There was a sigh of relief on the part of many SPD activists, trade unionists and youth in general up and down the country given the fact that Stoiber - darling of big business and other reactionary institutions in the country - had failed to win a majority. Up until August almost everybody in the country would have expected Stoiber to win the election and the SPD to get a hammering, and many party and union activists were reluctant to do anything in the campaign. Like in many other European countries, four years under Schröder had given rise to enormous disillusionment on the part of the rank and file. (See Is Germany faced with a right wing election victory?) Whereas Stoiber and the Christian Democrats had been leading in the opinion polls since February and there were reports of some rats in the Berlin ministerial bureaucracy leaving the sinking ship and joining the Christian Democrats, there was a drastic swing back to the Social Democrats and Schröder only in the last weeks of the election campaign. The threat of a Stoiber takeover mobilised workers and youth around the SPD (and to an extent the Greens) to make sure Stoiber would not get in.

Stoiber's strategy was to deplore the high level of unemployment in Germany (four million officially) and the bad prospects for the economy (on the brink of recession), put the blame on Schröder and present himself as someone who could run the economy better and do something about unemployment. Unlike his political father Franz Josef Strauss who had stood for chancellor and lost in the 1980 election campaign, Stoiber tried to present himself as everybody's darling and avoid polarisation and clear statements at any cost. But the political tide began to turn in August as Schröder and his vice chancellor and foreign minister Fischer (Green party leader) suddenly declared that under their leadership Germany would not take part in any military campaign against Iraq. This statement came out of the blue but corresponded with the overwhelming mood in the country - especially in the East - and embarrassed the warmongers in Stoiber's camp, forcing even opportunist Mr Stoiber to declare that under his leadership their would not be any support for unilateral US military action either. The flood disaster in East Germany in August brought environmental issues back onto the agenda and tended to back the position of the Greens and their environmentalist image. When it became clear that there was an increasing likelihood of a re-election of the Schröder government, the Christian Democrats panicked in the last week prior to the election. They tried to trigger off a racist/anti-immigrant campaign and targeted Schröder's minister of justice who was alleged to have said that like Hitler, George W. Bush also waged wars to divert the attention away from home politics!

Let us look at some facts and figures:

 

Votes cast in 2002

Percentage

Difference with number of votes in 1998

Turnout

48,574,607

79.1

-1,372,480

       

SPD (Social Democrats)

18,484,560

38.5

- 1,696,709

CDU/CSU (Christian Democrats)

18,475,696

38.5

+1,146,308

Grüne (Greens)

4,108,314

8.6

+ 806,690

FDP (Liberals)

3,537,466

7.4

+ 456,511

PDS (Socialists)

1,915,797

4.0

- 599,657

  • In 1998, the SPD had been ahead of the Christian Democrats by some 2.8 million votes. In 2002, this lead has melted down to merely 8,864 votes. An extremely narrow victory and a warning!
  • On the other hand, the gains made by the Christian Democrats in absolute figures (+1,146,308) were almost exclusively due to a swing in the South where the traditional conservative bastions are. In Bavaria alone, the increase for Stoiber's party amounted to 987,000 votes. Here they scored 58.5%. At the same time, the Christian Democrats even lost votes in parts of the North and East. They were the strongest party only in 4 out of 16 federal states. Nationally the SPD took the direct seats in 171 constituencies, the CDU/CSU took 125, the PDS 2 (in East Berlin) and the Greens one (in Berlin).
  • In the West the combined vote for the Christian Democrats and Liberals is slightly ahead of the old and new coalition (Social Democrats and Greens), whereas in the East the CDs got a hammering (28.3% for the Christian Democrats and 6.4% for the Liberals). So the East with a clear majority for the left, i.e. the combined vote of the two traditional workers' parties (SPD, 39.7% and PDS 16.9%) was decisive for Stoiber's defeat.
  • It is interesting to state that Stoiber's empty propaganda and phrase-mongering on unemployment did not at all bring about a swing in his favour especially in those areas of the North and East where unemployment is a major problem. Apart from the South and some minor exceptions, the big industrial and working class areas continue to be strongholds for the social democrats. This underlines the fact that the masses again and again will turn towards their traditional organisations in search of a way out.
  • The PDS suffered a major defeat as they were reduced to merely two seats and went down from 5.1% to 4.0%. Whereas in the West they did not have much to lose anyway as a one-percenter, the polarisation between Schröder and Stoiber as well as disillusionment with PDS politicians in power in two of the Eastern states lead to heavy losses. They were down from 21.6 to 16.9% in the East. It appears to be a similar process as the decline of other left wing or (ex) communist parties elsewhere in Europe wherever they are keen to take over positions in the state apparatus and are prepared carry out reformism without real reforms. With Schröder's U-turn on the question of Iraq, the issue of opposition to war was no longer a monopoly of the PDS.
  • Until recently superficial analysts claimed that Europe as a whole was moving to the right. Sweden, Germany and possibly Austria later this autumn could reveal a different trend. It is remarkable that in spite of the poor performance of Schröder's government the CDU/CSU and FDP did not succeed in winning back the parliamentary majority that they had had for decades up until 1998 (even in the 70s when Social Democrats and Liberals formed the coalitions under Brandt and Schmidt). At the same time, the different extreme right-wing and neo-fascist parties only scored insignificant results nationally: 1.3% for the "Republicans", 0.4% for the openly fascist NPD and 0.8% for the PRO. Even in the city of Hamburg, where the PRO had been founded by a judge named Schill two years ago and had achieved almost 20% in the local elections a year ago (a phenomena comparable to the Fortuyn party in Holland) this time they were down to 4.2%, having lost most of their supporters from last year.

The narrow victory of the SPD at the end of a neck-and-neck race is not really a reason to celebrate. Many workers and youth voted for the SPD, grinding their teeth, to stop Stoiber and give Schröder a second (and possibly final) chance. The union leaders (though formally neutral) had also urged their members to prevent a Stoiber victory, rightly arguing that Stoiber would turn the clock back on important issues such as labour legislation and union rights. But like in Britain with Blair's second government, the union leaders will be forced to exert pressure upon the government to change course before long.

With a predominantly tame and "pale" parliamentary party of the SPD and the Greens presenting themselves as a "modern" and "progressive" liberal pro-bourgeois party, the honeymoon for the second Schröder government will be very short. Against the background of a severe economic crisis and pessimism on the part of the bourgeois irrespective of whoever happens to be in government, all sorts of conflicts will come up, and major disappointment and anger on the part of workers and youth will be on the order of the day. There is no room to manoeuvre for a policy which tries to serve big business interests and appease the working class at the same time. The experience of 1999 shows how quickly election victories can be thrown way; it was only the corruption scandal around ex-chancellor Kohl and his CDU party that saved Schröder at the time.

The crash on the stock market is about to undermine the ideas of liberalisation, privatisation and shareholder society. So having defeated Stoiber, workers, youth, party and trade union activists should not lean back and wait and see, but actively intervene and put pressure upon the government to carry out real socialist policies. And Schröder will have to prove now that his opposition to George W.'s war against Iraq was not only an election campaign show.