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The New German Politics

Christian Democrats and Free Democrats rode pro-unity sentiments to victory; the left, particularly the Greens, badly miscalculated

`JA zur Deutschland, ja zur Zukunft' - the new, all-German electorate had little choice but to say ``yes to Germany, yes to the future'' as propounded by the Christian Democratic campaign poster of Chancellor Helmut Kohl. German unity became a fait accompli on Oct. 3, 1990. The immensely complicated task of putting this national-historical Humpty Dumpty together again, however, is only beginning. With little more than a year's free-democratic experience under their belts, the residents of the former East Germany (now referred to as the Five New States) have once again demonstrated the same essential partisan preferences as their Western counterparts, 40 years of ideological division notwithstanding. Campaign motifs were upbeat: ``Success for Germany - FDP,'' ``Chancellor for Germany - CDU,'' ``The New Path for a Modern Germany - SPD.''

In the ``Hero-City of Leipzig,'' campaign posters were outnumbered by cigarette and new car ads by 2 to 1. Berlin-West residents, by comparison, were bombarded with slogans on every street corner. Approximately 48 million elegible voters were called upon to select 650 office-holders from a spectrum of 23 parties.

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Electoral participation fell to 77 percent - enviably high by American standards but the lowest voter turnout in the 40-year history of the Bundestag. Miserable weather and a measure of Wahlm C"udigkeit (election exhaustion) on the part of Eastern citizens contributed to the decline. Twelve million elegible voters from the new states dutifully flocked to the polls on March 18, May 6, and Oct. 14, 1990 - national, communal, and states elections which produced no quick (read: miraculous) changes in a depressed economy.

Results of the Dec. 2 elections reflect a delicate balance of surprises and non-surprises.

In the once Social Democratic (SPD) bastion of Berlin, the conservatives tallied an astounding 40.3 percent (to the SPD's 30.5 percent), reflecting voter discomfiture with the antics of the recent ``red-green alliance.'' The collapse of the SPD-Alternative List/Green coalition just before the election derived from the forceful eviction of squatters from condemned houses in the east, undermining the popularity of Mayor Walter Momper, who enjoyed man-of-the-year status in the city the night the wall opened.

Local hopes for a ``grand coalition'' between conservatives and Social Democrats are linked to the fear that a CDU-dominated government in Bonn could quickly terminate the billions of marks in annual subsidies that have sustained this city-without-a-hinterland for 40 years. The great infrastructure problems afflicting the eastern half of the new capitol require cooperation between CDU and SPD.

The second surprise awaiting pundits was the Western Greens' failure to master the 5 percent hurdle mandated by the Basic Law to secure seats in Parliment.

The founding mothers and fathers of the Western pro-ecology and disarmament Greens were required by the party's own statutes to rotate out of leadership positions, leaving an embittered, disoriented base. Instead of capitalizing on the key issue of the '90s - restoring the long-poisoned East German environment - Greens preferred to do battle with windmills over a national-unity question already moot.

They failed to recognize, as Klaus Hartung noted, ``that unification itself is the greatest success for the German politics of environmental protection since the word ecology was invented. The nuclear energy plants in the East have been shut down, the environmental hells stretching from Bitterfeld to the Aue ... will be completely sanitized. The party of unity is the party of ecology....''

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It came as no surprise that Helmut ``King'' Kohl has been confirmed in his post as the first chancellor of a united Germany, though by a smaller margin than in 1987. Even the real victor, the Free Democratic Party under the leadership of 18-year veteran Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, fell within the range of 10 to 11 percent. The FDP's gain is a direct vote of thanks for Mr. Genscher's 20-year pursuit of German unity within the framework of European integration.

The ``good news'' is that the new right-wing radical party, the Republikaner, failed to achieve a single mandate in the first all-German assembly since 1933. Equally positive is the fact that representatives of the East German citizen movements who made the peaceful revolution possible last autumn will occupy eight seats.

The ``bad news'' is that the left is now deeply fragmented. The born-again Communist party of the East, the PDS, is in with 17 seats; the western eco-peace Greens are out - with the SPD having paid the ultimate price for the new left polarization.

Ironically, SPD candidate LaFontaine's dire predictions about the future costs of unification (DM 120 to 140 billion per year), along with his warnings about future socio-psychological asymmetries, may soon occur.

Still, the new Germans have proven they can conduct fair, democratic elections. The losers, it seemed, conveyed the ``wrong messages'' at the wrong time to wrong constituencies. The winners were the happy beneficiaries of history, whose greatest challenge was to make no mistakes. The new Germany is politically normal at last.

Postscript: Leipzig, Nov. 26. At the beginning of the weekly peace service in Nikolai Church, where the massive protests against the old regime began, it was stated that the church's resources have been exhausted since the introduction of the mark. No bills have been paid since August, and the parish can no longer afford to heat the kindergarten which parents once saw as an alternative to state regimented child-care centers.

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