CCCU Expert Comment: A warning shot, not yet a crisis for German democracy

I wrote a brief commentary for the CCCU Expert Blog about the outcome of the German federal elections. You can find the whole text below:

A WARNING SHOT, NOT YET A CRISIS FOR GERMAN DEMOCRACY

Dr Philipp Köker explains why the success of the far-right ‘Alternative for Germany (AfD)’ in Sunday’s election is cause for concern, but far from heralding a crisis for German democracy.

Angela Merkel emerged as the winner of yesterday’s federal elections in Germany. As expected, her coalition of Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) topped the polls with 33.5% of the vote while the Social Democrats (SPD), led by Martin Schulz, trailed behind at 20.5% (the worst result since 1949). However, the most interesting point of the election was always the competition between the four smaller parties, which at times appeared to be tied at around 10% each.

In the end, the differences were small but significant – the Free Democrats (FDP) more than doubled their 2013 result and re-entered parliament after a four-year break, while the Greens and the leftist DIE LINKE were unable to boost their numbers. Most notably, however, the formerly anti-Euro turned xenophobic far-right ‘Alternative for Germany’ (AfD) entered the Bundestag for the first time. Having polled just below the 5% threshold at its first attempt in 2013, the AfD now emerged as the third largest party with 12.6%.

The AfD’s success is certainly cause for concern, given that it is the first time since 1949 that a far-right party will sit in Germany’s federal parliament. However, its success must also be seen in a comparative context.

After the last ‘grand coalition’ of Christian Democrats and Social Democrats in 2005-2009, smaller parties likewise effectively channelled public discontent and benefitted electorally from the losses of the major parties. Exit polls also showed that the majority of AfD voters cast their vote out of protest, not because they were persuaded by the views of its leadership.

Furthermore, German politicians – bar some representatives of the Christian and Social Union (CSU) – have also stood firmly by the government’s decision to accept more than 1m refugees.

In contrast to the UK, where Conservatives and Labour alike adopted the populist anti-immigration rhetoric of UKIP, German parties have not stooped down to the AfD’s level.

Moreover, the AfD is rife with in-fighting between various factions –the party’s founder Bernd Lucke left in 2015 and Frauke Petry, who led the challenge against Lucke in 2015, just announced her intention to set up her own party group in parliament. This puts the AfD in stark contrast to other, more disciplined far-right parties in Europe, e.g. the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ), which could win 25% in the general election on 15 October 2017.

Thus, the potential for a far-right resurgence in Germany is limited – in terms of both electoral support and party organisation. The AfD’s success is a warning shot, but is not yet heralding a crisis for German democracy.

Dr Philipp Köker is Senior Research Fellow in Politics and International Relations and deputy director of the Centre for European Studies (CEFEUS) at Canterbury Christ Church University.

CCCU Expert Comment: Hung parliaments are democracy in action

On Friday, 9 June, I wrote a brief commentary on the outcome of the UK General Election for the CCCU Expert Comment blog. You can find the whole text below.

HUNG PARLIAMENTS ARE DEMOCRACY IN ACTION

Dr Philipp Köker explains why coalitions are not detrimental to democracy or strong leadership.

Theresa May’s gamble to consolidate (or even increase) her majority in the House of Commons has not paid off. Instead, the Conservatives have lost their majority and now need to find a coalition partner to continue to govern and ‘command the confidence of the House of Commons’.

Hung parliaments such as this or, more generally speaking, elections in which no party receives an absolute majority of seats are very common across democracies in Europe and beyond. Yet the subsequent governing coalitions are not just a matter of necessity, but an expression of democracy in action.

The mantra that ‘coalitions are undemocratic’ which we repeatedly heard after the 2010 election, is unheard of in other democracies and points to a questionable understanding of democracy among the British political elite. Democracy is exactly not winner takes all – majority rule, but requires compromise and cooperation to achieve the best outcome for everybody – not just for those who voted for the largest party.

Especially in the UK’s First-Past-The-Post electoral system, in which less than a third of all MPs receive an absolute majority of votes in their constituencies and many voters will never see their preferred candidate elected, a coalition government, irrespective of its composition, has the potential to increase the quality of democracy.

The inclusion of several parties increases the support base and legitimacy of the government and provides an additional mechanism of checks-and-balances, which prevents unilateral decision-making by a single leader.

Furthermore, coalitions require political parties to find new mechanism of conflict resolution and force them to consider a wider variety of viewpoints and potential solutions. Last, coalitions are not necessarily detrimental to strong leadership, but provide an opportunity to show actual leadership abilities. Nobody would question the leadership of Angela Merkel just because she has presided over coalition governments since coming to office in 2005.