German election becomes battle for third place in coalition

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is widely expected to secure a fourth term in office after Sunday’s general election. But with another round of coalition wrangling on the cards, the poll may yet offer a few surprises.

Europe’s biggest nation heads to the polls on September 24, with surveys suggesting there is little doubt that “Mother” Merkel – as the chancellor is affectionately known – will get a fourth term at the job she has held since 2005. But who will “Mutti” govern with next?

Merkel’s conservative CDU party enjoys an unassailable lead over her current coalition partners, the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD). At 63, the chancellor is on course to match the record four terms won by her predecessors Konrad Adenauer, the founder of the German Federal Republic, and Helmut Kohl, her own political mentor.

But with a record six parties poised to enter parliament on Sunday, the shape of a future governing coalition remains to be seen.

Can Merkel still lose?

According to the latest GMS poll published on Thursday, the CDU is tipped to win 37 percent of the vote, well clear of the SPD with 22 percent. A full third of voters remain undecided, but recent trends suggest there is little momentum behind the Social Democrats, who may yet slip further.

Admittedly, Germany’s complex electoral system means the SPD’s candidate for chancellor, Martin Schulz, can still harbour the faintest of hopes of unseating Merkel. Depending on the final scores on Sunday, his party could attempt to cobble together an alliance with the Greens and the leftist Die Linke, writes the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, though the paper cautions that such an unwieldy coalition remains highly unlikely.

Back in 2005, the three left-leaning parties had a combined majority of seats but failed to overcome their differences. This time they are likely to get fewer seats, with just as many disagreements; a moderate, Schulz has more in common with Merkel than with Die Linke. His party is desperate to end its junior partnership with the CDU but has few other options.

‘Jamaica coalition’

With neither of Germany’s two big parties eager to continue their loveless “grand coalition”, attention has shifted to the race for third place. In addition to the Greens and Die Linke, contenders include the pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP) and the anti-immigrant Alternative für Deutschland (AfD). All four parties are polling at around 8 to 11 percent.

As the traditional kingmaker in German politics, the FDP is hoping to return as the CDU’s junior coalition partner, four years after it was humiliatingly dumped out of the German parliament. The two right-leaning parties are seen as natural bedfellows but they may need a third, “unnatural” partner – the Greens – to clinch a majority.

An unprecedented tie-up, the three-way alliance has been dubbed a “Jamaica coalition”, due to the party’s respective colours. Given their substantial ideological differences, it would require even more barter and compromise than is normally expected of Germany’s consensus-based politics.

Hard-right threat

That consensus would be seriously undermined should the AfD emerge as the third-largest force in the lower house Bundestag.

The anti-Muslim party is set to become the first hard-right group in the post-war era to clear the 5 percent hurdle needed to enter the German parliament. A strong showing on Sunday would be seen as a major snub for Merkel, whose open-door refugee policy is reviled by the AfD.

Pollsters say a low turnout on Sunday could hurt mainstream parties and boost the anti-establishment AfD, which has harnessed both xenophobia and anger at elites in Germany and the European Union. This has prompted Merkel to urge supporters to go out and vote.

“My request to everyone is that they vote, and vote for those parties that adhere 100 percent to our constitution,” she told MDR radio on Thursday in a dig at the AfD, which has been dogged by accusations of racism and Holocaust denial. Earlier in the day, top Merkel aide Peter Altmaier stirred controversy by stating that AfD supporters would be better off not voting at all.


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