Fri Sep 23rd, 2005 at 05:42:59 AM EST
From the diaries ~ whataboutbob
I was going to post this as a comment to whataboutbob's diary on the nascent coalition talks in Germany - the attempt of the various players to deal with the train wreck that were last Sunday's elections. Well, you know how it goes - the comments grew into a diary.
A panoply of scenarios and only two likely solutions - None of the three mathematically possible "small" alliances are likely to succeed. Nobody is ready to team up with the Linke at this point, and the Linke itself could only deal with the SPD, but won't, since opposing Schroeder's reform agenda is their raison d'etre at this point. There's too much incompatibility between Greens and FDP (two experiments of state-level "traffic lights" coalitions have fallen apart, each after three years, in both cases mostly b/c of incessant infighting between FDP and Green Party ministers), Greens and CDU/CSU, and even FDP and SPD. So it's going to be either a big coalition or new elections.
Fear and loathing of the voter - The big parties fear new elections - they know full well they would bear the full brunt of the wrath of the voter. The worst case scenario for either of the big guys is to get successfully framed by the other side as the obstructionists who wouldn't strike a deal b/c they put party and personal careers before country.
The prize - The main obstacle to forging a big coalition is the question of who's going to be chancellor - that's what it's mostly about now. Neither party wants to be shut out of power. So the various small coalition options serve as the jokers in the game - as soon as one of the big guys can muster the appearance of being close to forging a small coalition deal, the other will have to act by dropping some of their demands. Also, naturally neither party wants a new guy/gal from the other side to gain incumbency. Finally, each camp has to consider how they're going to position themselves within a grand coalition. Either would naturally want to use a big coalition as a springboard for a new small coalition under their leadership. So the big question is, who's going to get the credit for any successes of a big coalition, and who's going to get the blame for any failures?
The players - The official CDU/CSU position is Merkel has to be chancellor. Their fall-back position will be it has to be one of their people - names bandied about include Stoiber, Wulf, and Koch, the ministerpraesidenten (heads of state governments) of Bavaria, Lower Saxony, and Hessia. The SPD line is it has to be Schroeder, and their fall back line will be someone from their midst, including Peer Steinbrueck (former ministerpraesident of Northrhine-Westfalia), Kurt Beck (ministerpraesident of Rhineland-Palz), Franz Muentefering (SPD chairman and majority leader of their Bundestag caucus), Peter Struck (Schroeder's secretary of defense), or Wolfgang Clement (Schroeder's economy secretary and at one time rumored to be his heir apparent). Note I'm listing the names that are being floated by the MSM; I think Beck and Struck are ridiculous choices - they're good people, but they have the charisma of, err, well, they don't have that much charisma. Also, I can't help scratching my head over Steinbrueck's appearance on this list. The man's damaged goods - it was his election loss in Northrhine-Westfalia that motivated Schroeder to seek early federal elections. On the conservatives' side, I'm ready to discard Wulf. He's an up-and-comer but he's only been ministerpraesident for two years. So the serious backup options are Stoiber and Koch on the right and Muenterfering and Clement on the left. Koch - of DoDo's nightmare scenario - is the scariest option.
Perception is everything - There are no hard and fast rules for which party in a coalition gets to nominate the chancellor. Traditionally, it's always been the strongest party - the one with the most votes and the most seats in the Bundestag. That would be the CDU/CSU. Except, SPD and CDU/CSU aren't that far apart after Sunday's elections. They're separated by just three out of 613 seats - and that advantage of the Union could still theoretically be erased when the district Dresden 160 votes the Sunday after next (the vote was postponed there b/c the candidate of the Neo-Nazi party died three weeks before election day). Both Schroeder and Merkel are damaged goods after Sunday's elections - neither of them reached their goal. But Schroeder presented himself as victorious, b/c he had managed to beat expectations. Until today, Schroeder could also claim that a majority of Germans wanted him to stay in office. He was far more popular than Merkel in the run-up to the elections, and the first polls conducted after Sunday's vote indicated that most people preferred a grand coalition under him to one led by Merkel. Today, a new poll by Emnid - a polling firm said to have ties to the conservatives - suggests Merkel narrowly beating Schroeder by three percentage points. There will undoubtedly be other polls with other results in the coming days; but this could be a reflection of the fact that Schroeder's neener-neener attitude towards Merkel during the televized post-election debate on Sunday night didn't sit particularly well with the electorate. There's also Schroeder's argument that the SPD did in fact emerge as the strongest party from the election, since CDU and CSU are actually two parties, although they are in complementary distribution (the CSU operates only in Bavaria and the CDU everywhere else) and caucus together in the Bundestag. (Some SPD folks have even talked up a possible rule change that would split the conservative caucus when it comes to appointing the speaker (Bundestagspraesident) and filling the all-important committee positions and chairmanships (see PeWi's diary on this) - a move I think may also alienate voters.
Gazing into my crystal ball - Merkel is holding a marginally stronger hand. But there is no doubt, in my view, that Schroeder is by far the best gambler of all the major players in this game - so he may yet prevail. And as the game unfolds, you may want to keep in mind that the most attractive option for either side may not even be to win or defend the chancellorship - but rather to have the talks fail and manage to blame the other side for it.