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German Electoral Politics$

Geoffrey K. Roberts

Print publication date: 2006

Print ISBN-13: 9780719069901

Published to Manchester Scholarship Online: July 2012

DOI: 10.7228/manchester/9780719069901.001.0001

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(p.140) Appendix 8 The Bundestag Election: 2005

(p.140) Appendix 8 The Bundestag Election: 2005

German Electoral Politics
Manchester University Press

The premature Bundestag election on 18 September 2005 was unusual for seven reasons. First, the decision in May 2005 by Chancellor Schröder to seek a premature dissolution of the Bundestag was a surprise. Second, the validity of that decision required a verdict from the Constitutional Court. Third, for the first time a female politician – Angela Merkel – was chancellor-candidate. Fourth, for the first time since 1983 a new party was likely to win seats in the Bundestag: the Left party, an alliance between the PDS, led by Gysi, and – mainly western German – left-wing socialists led by the former SPD leader, Lafontaine. Fifth, the result, especially for the Christian Democrats, confounded all expectations, including those of the leading opinion survey research firms. Sixth, the final result was not known for a fortnight, since it depended on a postponed election in a Dresden constituency. Seventh, a ‘grand coalition’ was the outcome, for the first time following an election, and only the second time in the history of the FRG.

Schröder decided to seek a dissolution of the Bundestag following the election in North Rhine-Westphalia on 22 May 2005, which continued the trend of disastrous Land election results for the SPD–Green party coalition. Discontent in his own party concerning labour market reforms, which his government sought to introduce, tempted Schröder to seek a new mandate. This decision was not fully supported either within the SPD or by many within the Green party. A schedule was conceived, which was designed to lead to a Bundestag election on 18 September 2005 by means of an artificial defeat in a vote of confidence in the government in July, followed by a request to the president to dissolve the Bundestag. However, two MdBs laid a complaint before the Constitutional Court. This concerned the constitutionality of the decision by the federal president to dissolve the Bundestag, since Schröder's government still enjoyed (p.141) a safe majority and indeed that majority passed legislation even after the loss of the vote of confidence. In August, the Constitutional Court upheld the decision of the president, in effect stating that the president could not look beyond the fact of the defeat of the vote of confidence (Die Welt, 26 August 2005). This verdict seemed to grant the chancellor a power of dissolution which the Bundestag itself did not enjoy.

The decision by the Christian Democrats to confirm Merkel as chancellor-candidate meant that a female and Protestant chancellor-candidate, and one originally from the GDR, would lead their campaign. Apparently none of these personal characteristics made much difference to voting behaviour, though Merkel's decisions during the campaign, especially concerning radical economic reforms such as a move towards a simplified tax system, her unconvincing performance in the televised debate against the chancellor and her lacklustre campaign style, probably did cost votes. Though the Christian Democrats until the last days of the campaign enjoyed a comfortable lead in opinion surveys and seemed likely (though not certain) to be able to form a coalition with the FDP, the result surprised most people. As anticipated, the SPD and Greens suffered losses; the Left party composed of the PDS and left-wing socialists obtained a substantial share of the vote; the FDP had an unexpectedly good result. However, the Christian Democrats suffered a catastrophic decline in vote-share and obtained their second-lowest share of the vote since 1949. Their lead over the SPD was just one per cent and four Bundestag seats. Consequently, the only realistic coalition combinations which could command a majority were either a ‘grand coalition’ of the CDU–CSU and SPD, or a novel coalition of the CDU–CSU, FDP and Greens (called a ‘Jamaica coalition’ because the black, yellow and green colours of that nation's flag corresponded to the colours of the parties of the prospective coalition). The SPD had reiterated that they would not form a coalition containing the Left party. The ‘Jamaica’ option failed to win enthusiasm from the Greens, so, after three weeks of bargaining during which the SPD tried to insist on Schröder's right to remain as chancellor, it was agreed to form a ‘grand coalition’ under the leadership of Merkel. The SPD obtained the same number of cabinet posts as the CDU–CSU, including the important ministries responsible for justice, finance and employment.

The Dresden election (postponed due to the death of a nominated candidate) produced some remarkable tactical voting. Many voters who supported the victorious CDU constituency candidate voted for the FDP list. In this way they protected the surplus seats allocated to the CDU in (p.142) Saxony. Had the CDU list won extra votes, one of its surplus seats would have been lost. The SPD won nine surplus seats, the CDU seven. Eleven of those seats were in eastern Germany.

Following the election in the Dresden constituency the final result was: Christian Democrats 35.2 per cent (226 seats); SPD 34.2 per cent (222 seats); FDP 9.8 per cent (61 seats); Left party 8.7 per cent (54 seats); Greens 8.1 per cent (51 seats). Turnout was 77.7 per cent.