Mon Sep 3rd, 2007 at 08:52:19 AM EST
[This is my first ET diary. Every correction, suggestion, opinion, rating, ranting, pointing to mistakes or grammatical errors and the like is appreciated.]
The next Bundestag election will be in September or October of 2009 and the front lines are now being drawn inside the SPD. I will only focus on the perceived personal qualities of the candidates and the coalitions they might pull off, not on differences in policies (which are hard to identify). The Chancellor is, of course, elected by the Bundestag and theoretically, every member could be elected - but only the "official" candidate of the winning party will be. A complete list of possible candidates for the SPD:
I don't think anyone else might have a shot. So let's dismiss the ones who won't be running or wouldn't have a chance anyway and rate the rest on how probable a nomination by the party is. I base my prediction on popularity figures both for the country and inside the SPD. (You might notice that there is no woman with a high profile in the party at the moment.)
Highly improbable: Struck (boring), Gabriel (unpopular), Tiefensee (less known in Western Germany), Platzeck (fragile health)
Improbable: Wowereit (gay), Müntefering (too old at 67), Steinbrück (never won an election)
Front-runners: Beck, Steinmeier
So, let's have a look at the two front-runners. Beck comes across as a harmless, toothless man of the middle, who rules my home state of Rhineland- Palatine in the only coalition between SPD and FDP (the neolib Free Democrats) on the state level and is a newbie in Berlin (as party leader). While he could open up new strategic options for the SPD, like the "traffic light- coalition" (SPD=red, FDP= yellow, Greens), he's not very popular and the SPD would lose many votes to the Neue Linke (the leftists) if he's running against Merkel.
IMHO, there's no way he can beat her and the result would be either a narrow majority for CDU/CSU (the Christian Democrats of Merkel, their color is black) and FDP, the so called "black- yellow" which made Helmut Kohl Chancellor - or a renewal of the Grand Coalition which almost nobody would be happy about. There's no way that the SPD could go for a traffic light (let alone a red-green-red with the leftists) if they have a lower percentage of votes than in the last election (34%, now polling at 26-29%). By flirting with the FDP or the Linke, the SPD could also anger the Greens which might be tempted to consider the "Jamaica option" (as in the flag): black- yellow- green. Beck will probably be chosen as a candidate if the SPD has already given up on winning the election.
Steinmeier, on the other hand, is more popular (as foreign ministers always tend to be). But only amongst the people who actually know him, he's kind of a newcomer in the political spotlight, never had a seat in the Bundestag and the party base doesn't think of him as their best representative. This being said, he might just be the lesser evil. He already declared that he wants to be in the next Bundestag and visited his (conveniently) chosen district near Berlin for the first time last week to shake hands.
PICTURE: when bear Bruno created a blast in the yellow press, satire magazine Titanic had this picture of Kurt Beck with the words: "Kill the beast!" on its title.
While Beck may be perceived as too much of a laid- back uncle who likes to drink wine and occasionally ramble afterwards (or as a sheep- killing bear - the irony is strong with this one), Steinmeier is too much of a cold technocrat with no "human touch" to get much sympathy. In other words, chances are that Merkel will extend the lead of the CDU (35% last time, now polling at 37-40%) and get to quit the uneasy truce with the SPD and their unhappy marriage called Grand Coalition. The SPD only has a chance if they get the political momentum by winning some states (Länder) back in the upcoming elections - or if some unforeseeable scandal strikes the CDU in 2009. I don't think the election will be about actual policies, sad as it may be (economic upturn takes away the most important issues of the last years).
PICTURE: Steinmeier with a bloated face saying "Im not a pig- and I don't look like one"
Personally, I would like to see Wowereit make an attempt. He's the only one who could manage a coalition with the Linke on a national level, so that red-green-red becomes an option. But then again, many people are still afraid of the Linke as "communist Eastern German" party (granted, the old guard has blood on their hands) and/or won't elect a homosexual atheist. (US citizens might wonder if there's any chance in hell - pun intended - for him, so: yes, he's extremely popular in Berlin.) Maybe he should just wait a while and attack only when Merkel's "black- yellow" tanks in 2013.
[Regarding policies, weak leaders translate to a weak program. The Social Democrats have to redefine themselves between Linke and CDU. There's no workers movement anymore and the status as Volkspartei (party that every demographic can vote for) is in jeopardy. So, what exactly is "justice" in the 21. century?
No answer, no victory.]
PICTURE: Wowi with his partner (from an article in the NYT, © by getty images)
Top Ten Politicians
The next elections:
Spring 2008 - Hamburg (CDU), Hessia (CDU), Lower Saxony (CDU-FDP)
Autumn 2008 - Bavaria (CSU)
Spring 2009 - Europe, Thuringia (CDU)
Autumn 2009 - Federal election (Bundestag), Brandenburg (SPD-CDU), Saarland (CDU), Saxony (CDU-SPD)
Download WDR- Presseclub (Podcast): Von allen Seiten unter Druck - Wer braucht noch die SPD?