Merkel Poised for Another Term as Germany Heads to the Polls

Angela Merkel

By Jacques Grießmayer [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

If the rabid campaigning during the UK election summer got you hot under the collar, then you’ll be delighted to hear that another European superpower is in the midst of their own election selection.

Germany heads to the polls on September 24 to elect their next chancellor, and to all intents and purposes it is a two-way dance between the current incumbent, Germany’s own ‘Iron Lady’ Angela Merkel, and her main opponent in Martin Schulz, the Social Democratic Party candidate.

The bookmakers have Merkel down as a comfortable favourite to secure her fourth straight term in office, but as we have seen with the US Presidential vote, Brexit and, to a lesser extent, the General Election campaign, those sportsbooks don’t always get it right. It’s why this particular battle, with Schulz an 8/1 outsider, is intriguing punters so much.

So has Merkel got it in the bag, or can the opposition mount a surprise victory?

What They’re Fighting For

The German political framework is slightly different to the one we know in the UK. There are two leaders, in essence, with the chancellor (akin to our prime minister) governing alongside the president. The chancellor is the political figurehead, although the president’s role does extend to decision-making and is not merely a ceremonial position.

But the chancellor is considered the chief executive of German politics, and that explains why the election process is so important in the country even though there is a sovereign figure in power.

So the winner of this 2017 election will have full executive power over the nation in a time of continuing economic and political unrest. Angela Merkel has been central to the UK’s Brexit talks so far, and was perhaps the highest profile figure campaigning for us to stay in the single market even after the referendum had taken place.

She is also one of the G8 leaders who meets with her counterparts to discuss economic matters on a global scale, and perhaps chat over a stein of beer and plate of sauerkraut about ‘what are we all going to do about this Donald fella, then.’

How it Works

The voting system in Germany is slightly different to that of the UK in that it comprises elements of both proportional representation and first-past-the-post.

In layman’s terms, every German has two votes: the first vote is used to determine the council in their local constituency. This is determined in the traditional first-past-the-post way.

The second vote then confirms the overall, proportionate result in the Bundestag, i.e. in government, and this is how the chancellor is elected.

For one of the parties to have an absolute majority, they need to have won 55% of the available seats. As was the case in the UK, in the 2013 German election Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union party were comfortable winners with 50% of seats gained and an overall vote share of 42%, but that isn’t enough to form an outright government. So, like Theresa May on these shores, Merkel had to cast her net far and wide to secure a coalition government.

The SDP, despite gaining 47 seats in the election, could not compete with the CDU/CSU, but they did agree to form a coalition with their party rivals – despite 65% of their members voting against the agreement.

This time around, Merkel and the CDU/CSU will be hoping to secure an outright majority, or form a coalition with a party other than the SDP, who remain their closest rivals for overall power. The Green party, who won 8.4% of the vote in 2013 but appear to be gaining traction four years later, are one such option.

The Contenders

Angela Merkel was first appointed chancellor in 2005, and has ruled with an iron fist ever since. Despite a number of controversies in the past four years, with immigration the hottest political potato in Germany, support for Merkel and the CDU in general remains strong. Even though she typically performs poorly in the TV debates, the last opinion poll had the party at around 40% of the vote share.

The SDP were polling at a low of 21% prior to Martin Schulz’s leadership regime in the early part of 2017, but since the new leader came in they have enjoyed a boost in public confidence – an opinion poll in April had the two parties almost neck and neck in the leadership battle.

But Merkel has since pulled away again, with the SDP now polling at around the 25% margin they managed in 2013.

The biggest leap in the polls has come for AfD, which stands for the Alternative for Deutschland. This is a right wing, nationalist and Euro-sceptic organisation that has tended to flourish in parts of Europe as fears over immigration and large-scale terrorism have reared their head. The AfD were opinion polling at around 4% in September 2013, and now they are at the 9% mark. The fear for wider Germany is that they may yet have a part to play in building a coalition, if that is how the vote falls, although both of the major parties have denied this as a possibility.

The most likely outcome is that the CDU/CSU will be asked to form a coalition government once again, probably with the SDP, although a scenario where the CDU rule along with the Greens or FDP is not out of the question.

As ever, we shall have to wait to see how the voters go about their business on September 24.