It's General Election day in Germany Can Merkel win again? Exit polls out late afternoon pic.twitter.com/lPNcEj03Un
— Mike Smithson (@MSmithsonPB) September 22, 2013
Unless the polls have been very wrong, Angela Merkel is heading for a third term as German Chancellor, a feat that only Adenauer and Kohl have managed since 1949 (and they both went on to win four elections). The great theme of stability in German politics will thus continue, with only four changes in governing party, and only eight Chancellors, since 1949 (Japan has had that many PMs in the last 8 years).
The key question today is who Merkel will govern with â€“ will it be continuing with the â€œyellowsâ€ (the centre-right FDP) or a grand coalition with the â€œredsâ€ (the centre-left SPD), as per the 2005-9 government? Parties essentially need to clear 5% of the vote to enter the Bundestag, and the final week polls have been on a knife-edge, giving the FDP 5.5, 5, 6, 5.5, and 6. If they donâ€™t clear 5%, then weâ€™re looking at a grand coalition.
A wild-card to keep an eye on is the new anti-Euro (but not anti-EU) AfD party, averaging about 4% in final polling â€“ if they can clear 5%, this will take seats away from other parties, again leaving the grand coalition as the likely outcome. Some have speculated about a possible Merkel + Greens coalition, but this is rightly a longer shot with the bookies.
Itâ€™s been described as a dull campaign (as seems to be the norm for Germany post-SchrÃ¶der) and hands seem to have been the defining images of the election â€“ Merkelâ€™s safe-pair-of-hands â€œrhombusâ€ on the huge poster in Berlin, while SPD candidate SteinbrÃ¼ck was pictured â€œgiving the fingerâ€ on a magazine cover.
As the pivotal country in Europe, thereâ€™s a lot riding on the result â€“ Merkel alongside the FDP will be able to take a tougher line with the likes of Spain, Greece, and Portugal, while the SPD may well want to take a softer approach. Traditionally, the junior coalition partner provides the foreign minister (eg the FDPâ€™s Genscher for 18 years) â€“ so an SPD foreign minister may be keener on leaning slightly closer to France, and slightly more away from the UK, than might be the case with the FDP in government. Thus whether the FDP scores 4.9% or 5.1% could potentially make quite a difference to Europe in the months ahead – as sometimes happens in politics, quite a lot could depend on very little.
Exit polls will be at 5pm UK time, and like most countries counting is done at polling stations. Most counting should be done by 11pm-midnight â€“ although if the result is on a knife-edge it might take most of the evening to determine the final outcome.
DC is an occasional contributor to PB, mainly covering international politics.