Wed Oct 1st, 2008 at 03:35:17 AM EST
In January this year, the German state of Hessen held regional elections. Back then, I emphasized its special importance far beyond its borders in several diaries.
The outcome was an impasse: five parties came into parliament, but strong animosities prevented any combination with a parliamentary majority. Then attempts to form a minority government led to a crisis of the entire SPD (Social Democrats).
However, after almost nine months (and as many points lost in opinion polls), it seems that the minority government option will get the green light at last: in secret test ballots, there were enough votes. What's more: for once, I can quote some fair reporting on the Hessen SPD.
|At last a happy ending for her: Hessen SPD leader and PM-to-be Andrea Ypsilanti. Photo from SPIEGEL.|
To recap the precendents (skip it if you remember)
The diaries heralding the Hessen elections in January were:
To recap the importance of this election: this was a face-off between the most successful at elections, most heavyweight, most macho regional leader of the CDU; and a dwarfed SPD led by an oft-dismissed woman from the party left-wing who won the internal contest against the wishes of her federal leadership, and campaigned decidedly on the left. In other words, a test for an unconventional strategy against a previously successful one: The German version of the invicible right-driving conservatism known from the USA or from Sarko vs. an antithesis of the worldwide centre-left dogma of triangulating and pulling to the centre.
Ypsilanti's strategy was successful enough for everyone to talk of a left swing, as covered in these diaries:
However, hardline PM Roland Koch's CDU still got marginally more votes than challenger Ypsilanti's SPD. Worse for them, neither had majority, not even with the traditional coalition partners (the liberal FDP resp. the Greens): the Left Party's entry into parliament blocked both options.
After the failure of attempts by both big parties to get both the FDP and the Greens into a triple coalition, only two choices remained: new elections, or an SPD-Greens minority government with Left Party outside support.
Now many in the traditional West German parties have trouble with not seeing the Left Party as anything but a bunch of evil commies - and some troubles in the new Left Party regional parliament factions played into that.
When Ypsilanti decided to lead the Hessen SPD in the minority government direction, thereby abandoning election promises of no cooperation in any form with the Left Party, discontent within and outside the party rattled and damaged the entire SPD across Germany, ultimately leading to the resignation of its boss.
In Hessen itself, the appearance of one SPD rebel put an end to the first attempts, and strong attacks from the media and negative public reception drove poll numbers into the basement.
Some diaries (or their comment threads) that covered these developments:
New government on the horizon
Ypsilanti never gave up on the minority government option. After marathon talks with members within the Hessen SPD, Ypsilanti's supporters initiated a long step-by-step process (which they should have had done six months ago): getting formal approvals of various party bodies, talks with the Greens and the Left party, approvals by their bodies too.
As the last and most important step, at the explicit request of the Greens, all three parties held secret test ballots yesterday. The result: the one MP from the SPD's right wing who earlier declared her dissent abstained, everyone else voted for Ypsilanti -- so she seems to have secured a one-vote majority to be elected PM. I note her weakness was her strength: no Hessen SPD MP wants new elections now...
The actual vote in the Hessen parliament will be only in November.
Such a position of influence for the Left Party was unthinkable for West German politicians until now, so it will be a 'test run'. But Ypsilanti's government (if there'll be no backstabber) will definitely face an uphill struggle, with the present low poll numbers, and polls showing heavy discontent with their choice even among SPD voters.
Some sympathetic reporting
In the last few months, the German MSM was not simply hostile, but used the narrative of "Miss Ypsilanti's lust for power", and played up the broken election promise theme (see this and this comment).
For my partisan self, it seemed obvious that other election promises must be more important for the SPD and Greens. Above all, ending Koch's government (which would likely continue if they had thrown in the towel and new elections would have been held: Koch had enough lust for power to not resign).
Now at last I find SPIEGEL asking an actual Hessen SPD MP in support of the minority government option, so that we hear their actual motivations:
|Linksbündnis in Hessen: Die gefühlte Ministerpräsidentin - SPIEGEL ONLINE - Nachrichten - Politik|| Left Alliance in Hesse: The felt-to-be prime minister - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News - Politics |
|Wer die Situation der hessischen SPD verstehen will, muss etwa mit dem Abgeordneten Thorsten Schäfer-Gümbel sprechen. Der 39-Jährige ist einer von Ypsilantis Leuten. Dennoch will er kein negatives Wort über ihren Gegenspieler Jürgen Walter verlieren. Nach der Fraktionssitzung lädt Schäfer-Gümbel zum Gespräch in sein winziges Büro. Er trinkt Kaffee aus einer roten SPD-Kanne und redet sich sofort in Rage.||If one wants to understand the situation of the Hessian SPD, he needs to talk to, say, MP Thorsten Schäfer-Gümbel. The 39-year-old is one of Ypsilanti's people. Yet he doesn't want to lose a negative word about her opponent Jürgen Walter [the centrist Hessen SPD faction leader she defeated for leadership]. After the faction meeting, Schäfer-Gümbel invites us for an interview in his tiny office. He is drinking coffee from a red SPD pot and talks himself immediately into a rage.|
| Er ärgere sich über die "holzschnittartige Berichterstattung" der Journalisten, sagt er. Keinesfalls gehe es bei der hessischen Entscheidung alleine um den "Karrierewillen einer einzelnen Frau". Eine sehr große Mehrheit der Partei in Hessen unterstützt die Entscheidung für eine rot-grüne Minderheitsregierung. "Eine Entscheidung, die keinem von uns leicht fällt", gibt Schäfer-Gümbel zu.||He is annoyed about the "woodcut-like reporting" of journalists, he says. The Hessian decision is not at all only about the "career wish of a single woman". A very large majority of the party in Hessen supported the decision for a Red-Green minority government. "A decision that wasn't easy for any of us," Schäfer-Gümbel admits.|
| Aber bei allen Bauchschmerzen, was die Linken angeht - niemand habe ihm bisher erklären können, wie die Alternative aussehe. Eine Große Koalition mit Koch oder Bouffier? Für Schäfer-Gümbel unvorstellbar. "Ich bin 2003 in den Landtag gekommen und habe unter Kochs Alleinregierung gelitten wie ein Hund. Alles Fortschrittliche wurde umgemäht, das Ziel war und ist, uns und unsere Themen kaputt zu machen." Ebenso gehe es den meisten in Fraktion und Partei. Koch müsse weg. Punkt. Schluss. Aus.||But for all the bellyache, concerning the Left Party - no one had been able to explain to him what's the alternative. A Grand Coalition with Koch or [current CDU interior minister] Bouffier? For Schäfer-Gümbel unimaginable. "I arrived in the regional parliament in 2003, and I suffered under Koch's solo government like a dog. Everything that was progressive was mowed down, the goal has been and is to destroy us and our issues." Most people in the faction and the party feel the same. Koch must go. Period. End. Off.|