Five quick takes on the German election

  1. The CDU/CSU’s result is bad, but mostly so in comparison to 2013. The Christian Democrats are the biggest party, but they have scored their second-worst result since forever. But they had similar results in 2005 and 2009. By her ratings, Merkel has not been terribly popular for most of her tenure. 2013 was lucky timing and a last minute swing from potential FDP voters (I guess)
  2. 27 years after unification, the gap between East and West is real. Electoral support for parties varies across states and regions, but the East-West gap stands out. The AfD’s much stronger in the East, making them the second party in some places.
  3. There could be new elections. The SPD has ruled out yet another Grand Coalition. That leaves the Jamaica option, but it is not at all clear if such a coalition is viable. At the federal level, it involves four players (because of the CSU), and all the smaller parties have their mutually incompatible red lines. The stakes are particularly high for the FDP. Freshly back from the electorally dead, they cannot be seen as selling out (once more) for the sake of getting into government. There is no guarantee that a coalition can be formed. The constitution stipulates no time limit and there will be no rush, but politicians may eventually come to the conclusion that they have to go to the polls again.
  4. The CSU’s result in Bavaria is very bad, comparatively speaking. The CSU are down to 38 per cent in Bavaria – that’s considerably better than the mainstream CDU did on the rest of Germany, but a disaster by local standards. The CSU used to be the rightmost democratic party in Germany. The rise of the AfD is a clear and present danger for them, particularly in the face of the upcoming state election.
  5. The AfD could split again. Today may be their biggest triumph, but September 24 could be the party’s undoing. When Frauke Petry got rid of Lucke, that was widely seen as a coup of the radical populists against the market liberals. In reality, Petry won with the tacit support of the real hardliners. Since then, the perception of what constitutes a moderate within the AfD has shifted, and Petry’s support has waned. The AfD’s parliamentary party will have 80+MPs, many of them with rather strange biographies and some with openly extremist credentials. Only a minority will support Petry, who is at least nominally still one of the AfD’s two co-leaders. While Petry has pondered the prospect of a coalition with the Christian Democrats a few years down the line, the parliamentary party will be uncouth and noisy. Alexander Gauland, the presumptive leader, has already announced that he will “hunt down” the government. It is therefore conceivable that Petry an those loyal to her and her husband will break away, and that the AfD itself will move even closer towards old-style right-wing extremism, which would in the medium-term undermine their electoral appeal.

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