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