There are more than straws in the wind for those hoping for signs of sane political developments. Beyond the ambit of the apparently endless and unfathomable inanities of Washington and the faltering British coalition that resulted from the miracle of all three party leaders’ losing the last election, some nations resolutely refuse to accept poor government. By many criteria, the most swiftly rising major power of recent years would not be China but Germany. Germany’s previous trips to the batter’s box of world power and influence have been so stigmatizingly catastrophic and criminal, however, that it is feeling its way with extreme caution. The nation will clearly require a considerable time yet to develop confidence in its ability to lead anyone. But the preconditions of plausibility are being meticulously assembled with the thoroughness of German automobile-factory workers, all while those same ingredients of national strength and credibility are being squandered in the United States and many other countries. Germany has led the rest of the euro zone in economic growth by between 2 and 3 percentage points for the last three years; unemployment has declined from 11 percent to 5 percent since 2006, while in the United States it has risen from 4.5 percent to 10 percent and then fallen back to 7.8 percent, and while in other euro countries it has risen from 8.5 to 12 percent.
The chief, though (as she has generously acknowledged) not the sole, author of this progress, Chancellor Angela Merkel, reaped the political reward on Sunday with the greatest single-party political victory since the time of Germany’s reunification in 1990. The German electoral system is complicated: It’s partly a straight-list system where parties identify their candidates in order of prominence, citizens vote for parties rather than candidates, and each party’s overall popular vote determines the percentage of its candidates who are elected; partly a constituency system where precise geographic areas elect a representative and any parties or groups that fail to draw 5 percent nationally are eliminated and elect no one. It thus is very difficult and rare for one party to achieve a majority. Frau Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and its Christian Social allies in Bavaria rose nearly 8 points since the election four years ago, from 33.8 to 41.5 percent, and from 239 members of the 630-seat Bundestag to 311, just five short of a majority. Less than 42 percent of the vote elected 49 percent of the legislators, because 15 percent of the 44 million votes (an impressive turnout of over 71 percent) were cast for parties that won less than 5 percent and therefore did not make the cut. The chancellor lost her preferred coalition partner, the pro-business Free Democrats, who won just under 5 percent, but it should not be an insuperable challenge to make a coalition with the second party, the Social Democrats, who drew 25.7 percent of the votes.
The great personal victory for sensible and straightforward government that Frau Merkel won disguises some lasting concerns about the German system. At this time, the Social Democrats and the Greens, the fourth party, say they will not form a coalition with the third party, the Left, which is seen as being infested with unacceptable former pillars of the Communist Soviet puppet state of East Germany, which killed those trying to cross the Berlin Wall (or “Anti-Fascist Defense Barrier,” as it was officially called). But the Left’s leader, Katja Kipping, is a snappy 35-year-old red-haired woman with considerable panache; she seems to have legitimate socialist and democratic credentials and will not be barred forever as a blood-stained accomplice of the infamous Pankow regime in East Berlin that early in its inglorious life professed to have “lost confidence in the people” (causing leftist playwright Bertolt Brecht to ask if the Communists cared to elect a new people). On the other hand, the Greens, who in their early days in West Germany were a pretty hair-raising group, are now led by a rather unfrightening 47-year-old woman, Katrin Goring-Eckhardt, an elder in the German Evangelical Church.