By: Leo Polwein
On the 24th of September, elections for the German legislative body, the Bundestag, took place. This election was very special for me, as I was able to vote in a national election for the first time. This eventful election has prompted major changes in German politics, and it seems that the next governing coalition formed in the Bundestag will most likely be a Jamaica coalition. In order to understand why, it is important to recognize why the results of this particular election were so unique.
The historic nature of the election stems from the fact that for the first time since World War II, a far-right party has managed to win seats in the Bundestag. The Alternative for Germany (AfD) party garnered 12.6% of the vote in this year’s election, making the populist party the third strongest in Germany. Moreover, Germany’s two main parties, the Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) and the Social Democrats (SPD), have the lowest combined vote share since WWII. This poor showing was due to voters abandoning these two parties for their smaller counterparts such as the AfD or the neoliberal Free Democrats (FDP).
There are multiple reasons for this political fracturing. Many political commentators in Germany argue that the previous government, known as “grand coalition” with an alliance between Angela Merkel’s CDU party and the Social Democrats, weakened political discourse. In the eyes of many Germans, there were few policy differences between the two main parties during the election campaign. An unspectacular TV-debate between their top candidates further contributed to a feeling of political stagnation and homogeneity.
Another factor that cost the CDU and the Social Democrats many voters and contributed to the rise of the AfD was the issue of refugees. In 2015, almost 900,000 refugees arrived in Germany, mostly from Syria. This triggered the fear of an “Islamization” of the country among many Germans, especially because many viewed this immigration as uncontrollable. While the number of refugees arriving in Germany has drastically decreased in the following years, the topics of asylum and integration dominated the election campaign to the point where they monopolized the TV-debate between the top candidates of CDU and SPD.
Now, German political leaders are in a difficult position. They must form a governing coalition which would secure more than 50% of the seats in the Bundestag. There are two likely options. The first would be another “grand coalition”, consisting of the CDU and SPD. The second would be a so-called “Jamaica coalition,” named after the colors of the three parties that would be involved: the black of the CDU, the yellow of the neoliberal Free Democrats (FDP), and the identically colored and named Greens, a party focused on social and ecological issues.
The Social Democrats have already ruled out the possibility of forming a coalition with Angela Merkel’s CDU, making a Jamaica coalition the most likely outcome. The formation of such a coalition would be new for Germany, and it will be difficult for the three parties involved to reach a consensus on the many sensitive topics at hand. The opinions of the parties regarding appropriate refugee policies, for example, differ greatly. The AfD wants to introduce a “zero immigration” policy, the CDU opposes an upper limit for how many refugees can enter Germany, and the SPD, the FDP, and the Greens are against limiting the number of asylum seekers altogether. With negotiations already underway, Chancellor Merkel will have to use all her political experience to make a Jamaica coalition work.
In spite of the challenges, such a coalition could have a lot of potential. Under the leadership of an experienced Chancellor, the new coalition could revitalize the political landscape in Germany. The Greens could add value by pushing important topics such as renewable energy and electric cars, and the FDP could contribute on issues of digitalization and education.
The German public, for their part, seems amenable to the idea of a Jamaica coalition. In a recent study conducted by German TV Channel ZDF, 59% of the participants indicated that they would find the formation of a Jamaica coalition “good, while only 22% thought that such a coalition would be “bad.”
The negotiations for a Jamaica are expected to take several weeks, and it is unclear what will happen if the negotiations fail. While it is uncertain if a coalition of these three parties will be successful at a national level, I personally think that the coalition offers a lot of potential for Germany to become a more progressive country. However, one big challenge that remains is the issue of immigration and refugees. As of now, the country is split over the issue and the rise of the AfD certainly does not make things easier for Merkel and her partners as they seek to form a governing coalition.