Ger­man hus­tings go from pleas­ant to be­yond the pale


Last Sunday, Ger­many had to con­front its present and its past in Bun­destag (par­lia­men­tary) elec­tions, and it came up more Trump than trumps.

In­ci­den­tally, the US pres­i­dent’s Ger­man her­itage means his sur­name would have been pro­nounced as a Ger­manic Troomp, had the pro­nun­ci­a­tion not be so Amer­i­can­ised.

But re­turn­ing to last week’s Ger­man elec­tion re­sults, Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel’s fears of a resur­gence of the far right that cast such a deadly chill over Ger­man his­tory came to pass, with the Al­ter­na­tive for Ger­many, or AfD, which built its cam­paign largely on an anti-im­mi­grant plat­form, claim­ing third spot.

In fact, the two big win­ners on the day — the AfD and the lib­eral Free Demo­cratic Party — did not claim first or sec­ond spot in the fi­nal re­sult, and are as dis­parate as the fi­nal ver­dict of the Ger­man elec­torate.

First place went to Merkel’s con­ser­va­tive es­tab­lish­ment party, the Chris­tian Demo­cratic Union, and its Bavar­ian sis­ter party, the Chris­tian So­cial Union. But their share of the vote dropped from 41% to 34%. Sec­ond place was again claimed by the So­cial Demo­cratic Party, which is cen­tre-left, and which saw its share of the vote drop from 26% to 21%.

No one who had been in Ger­many in the past month could have been sur­prised at the lack­lus­tre per­for­mance of the two main par­ties.

In Ber­lin, the best prom­ise CDU con­stituency can­di­dates could come up with was to be ev­ery area’s “voice in the Bun­destag” — which re­ally goes with­out say­ing — and the gen­eral CDU posters, in­vari­ably sport­ing Merkel’s face, car­ried the pay-off line Für ein Deutsch­land, in dem wir gut und gerne leben — For a Ger­many in which we want to live, and live well.

Tepid stuff, ba­si­cally “vote for more of the same” — enough for a win but not for growth. The So­cial Demo­cratic Party was even more of a snorefest.

Zeit für mehr Gerechtigkeit — Time for greater jus­tice. The AfD’s posters were shock­ingly crude, racist and clearly ef­fec­tive, es­pe­cially in the very eastern and south­ern ar­eas of the coun­try where the Nazis made in­roads 90 years ago.

In con­trast to the Merkel govern­ment’s rel­a­tively pos­i­tive stance to­wards im­mi­grants, AfD posters fea­tured a heav­ily preg­nant white woman and the slo­gan Neue Deutsche? Machen wir

sel­ber — New Ger­mans? We’ll make them our­selves.

An­other AfD poster had a pic­ture of young white bikini­clad women on a beach with the slo­gan Burkas? Wir steh’n auf Biki­nis — Burkas? We stand by the bikini.

This kind of cam­paign­ing worked well for the AfD, which in­creased its share of the vote from 4.7% to 12.6% — and its Bun­destag seats from zero (a party must score 5% to win any seats) to 94.

On the other side of the spec­trum, the lib­eral Free Demo­cratic Party was in a bat­tle for sur­vival, hav­ing also dipped be­low 5% in the pre­vi­ous elec­tion in 2013.

It de­cided to go for a cool, in­tel­lec­tual and mod­ern look, adding ma­genta to its tra­di­tional yel­low posters, and fo­cus­ing on its pho­to­genic leader, Chris­tian Lind­ner, to a de­gree I found a tad over­done. “Mod­ern” slo­gans like Dig­i­tal first, Be­denken sec­ond —

be­denken be­ing “con­cerns” — clearly worked like a charm as the party in­creased its vote from 4.8% to 10.7%, and its seats from zero to 80.

The other two par­ties in the Bun­destag will be the hard left Die Linke, which grew from 64 seats to 69, and the left­ist en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist Greens, which grew from 63 seats to 67, each win­ning about 9% of the vote.

Bruis­ing as the re­sults were for the es­tab­lish­ment par­ties, it makes for fas­ci­nat­ing up­com­ing coali­tion talks, with the most likely sce­nario at this stage be­ing the so-called “Ja­maican op­tion” — the black of the CDU/CSU com­bined with the yel­low of the Free Democrats and the green of the Greens.

The So­cial Democrats ruled them­selves out of coali­tion talks, pre­fer­ring to be the op­po­si­tion in what could be the rel­a­tively pop­u­lar Merkel’s fourth, and prob­a­bly last, term.

Al­ter­na­tive for Ger­many posters were shock­ingly crude, racist and clearly ef­fec­tive

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