| ELECTION REVIEW
Although the polling booths closed at 6 o'clock and the voters and politicians alike accepted the election was free fair and correctly administered, none of them could know how many members of the Bundestag had been elected. For anyone familiar with a 'first by the post' system of election, this seems rather strange, but Germany uses a method of proportional representation that is simple to understand, but difficult to become entirely at ease with.
First of all, every voter has two votes. This is official, not a matter of corruption, or electoral malpractice.
One vote is cast for a candidate in the constituency, or electoral district, the other is for a party, or 'list' of candidates.
For most people, the second vote for the party 'list' is the most significant, because within the system of proportional representation, this decides the proportion of members who will be elected within the Bundestag, or the Lower House of Parliament. There is a threshold of 5%, below that a party gets no seats, which is what happened to the conservative left PDS this evening and to a scatteriung of minor parties, mainly of the far right.
The PDS, who are effectively the successor party to the former East German communists, can have little hope of a long term future in national politics because their electoral support is limited to those regions that were formely East Germany, only about 20% of the national electorate. To cross the 5% hurdle, they must do exceptionally well in the regions where they are active. Due to a lack of convincing candidates, they have little or no chance of picking up votes in other regions. In a poltiical landscape with four other serious contender parties for electoral success, crossing the 5% is very hard.
The PDS's failure is just one more indication that the era of German Re-Unification that began in 1989 is drawing to a close. Whatever the differences between different parts of Germany, the contrasts are assuming the character of regional politics, much as Italy is divided between north and south, the UK between England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, or the US between North and South. There may be clear reasons why the regions follow different political traditions, but the origins of those divisions are gradually becoming historic.
As expected, partly because of the anti-semitism issue surrounding, the now sacked deputy leader Juergen Moelleman, the right wing liberal party, the FDP, failed to do anything like as well as they had hoped, gathering just over 7% of the votes, while the Greens managed to pick up nearly 9%. Since the Greens were members of the governing coalition, most people had expected their share of the vote to fall, but were proved wrong. The Greens picked up another couple of percent and with it, a good deal of credibility.
The two major parties, the social democrat SPD and right of centre CDU/CSU 'Union' were running neck and neck on the election evening calculations, both with between 38-39%, so the decisive role of the minor parties as coalition members can be appreciated, SPD/Green, 38-39+9% or Union/FPD, 38-39+7point something%, close, very close.
So far, this all seems simple, however there are a series of additional seats to be won in the Bundestag reflecting region srtengths, or the popularity of particular candidates and before the votes are counted no-one can be sure how many of these there might be.
Therefore, region by region, every party wins as many seats as reflect their performance in the votes for the party 'list'. In a region with 100 seats, the two large parties will pick up 38-39% of the seats each. However, if their individual candidates have mange to win more electoral districts directly than this proportion would indicate, then the additional seats are added to their representatives. Thus more than a hundred Bundestag members will come from the region, though it has a hundred electoral districts. At the last election this favoured the SPD who picked up a further dozen, or so, seats ahead of their rivals. This time, the full counts and the addition of postal votes must be tallied before it is clear the final number of members of parliament each party will have.
On the evening of the poll, at one point it seemed as if the conservatives had taken the election by a couple of percentage points, however as the evening has worn on, it seems more and more likely that Chancellor Schroeder's SPD/Green coalition will be returned to office, with an increase in the influence of the Greens. By moving into third place and bettering the liberals, they have not only surprised themselves, but won the chance to gain another four years of ministerial experience for their leading politicians, perhaps the most difficult thing for any of the smaller parties to achieve.
Earlier this week, US Defense Minister Donald Rumsfeld refused to meet his German counterpart Peter Struck, successor to Rudolf Scharping and referring to him as 'this person'. This followed a strange series of reports from a German provincial newspaper about comments the German Justice Minister had made, or not made, about the Bush team's strategies on Iraq. This report seemed more like an election stunt by a local journalist rather than serious reporting of a Ministerial briefing, but it has certainly achieved the effect of souring relations between Germany and the USA.
Assuming Struck stays in post, he will be sitting in NATO meetings until well after the next US Adminstration have assumed office. Nice for Donald to get off to a good start with the new minister.
Probably the most surprising factor of all with the German system, is quite simply the huge numbers of people who are denied a vote. Voters must be German citizens and that is based on kinship, so hundreds of thousands of migrants who have lived and worked in the country for decades have no votes. Though born in Germany their children will have no votes, unless they give up their rights to citizenship in the land of their parents' birth, and assume German nationality. Dual citizenship is not allowed. A former FDP Minister told me on Saturday that the main reason for this is because Germany has a conscript army, the young men cannot serve two countries. Perhaps the country would be happier if it gave all its people the vote and stopped putting its young men in uniform and teaching them how to handle guns.