Horst Seehofer. Again. I cannot believe this Bavarian pol with his provincial mindset, populist style and boundless ego, has not yet resigned as boss of the Christian Social Union after last night’s drubbing in the Bavarian election. Of course, this historic result also reflects tectonic shifts in Germany’s party landscape (see below). But it had a lot to do with the infantile antics of this man. For the sake of Bavaria and all Germany, he must step down, as party leader and interior minister. And if he doesn’t, the CSU should recall Friedrich Nietzsche: That which is ready to fall should also be pushed.
Seehofer made the same disastrous miscalculation that had already ensnared other “center-right” politicians confronting a rising populist right, such as Nicolas Sarkozy before the 2012 election in France. He thought that he had to “protect his right flank” by talking the populist talk on refugees and migrants, to keep Bavarians from defecting to the Alternative for Germany (AfD). Instead, those Bavarians who do worry about migrants went for the AfD anyway. And those who were turned off by Seehofer’s populism went for other parties, including the clearest alternative to the AfD, the Greens.
And so the CSU, a party that used to be almost synonymous with the “white-blue” state it governs and that had won absolute majorities for much of postwar history, eked out a measly 37 percent. It will still govern, but now in a new coalition (probably with the so-called Free Voters, a party peculiar to Bavaria). But the shockwaves of the CSU’s defeat in all but name will reverberate across national politics…
Which brings us to the evening’s real winners (in all but name): the Greens. By hewing to their liberal line on migrants, they have become the actual alternative to the Alternative: the party for all those who favor an open society. In Bavaria, the Greens weighed in as the second-largest party last night, with 17.5 percent, double their share in 2013. But even that doesn’t do full justice to their rise, because the Greens came first in Munich and the other big cities.
Mind you, the Greens have in the past been a problematic and often illiberal party. But they must now live up to their new role and responsibility. As I argued on Thursday, they should “proudly become what the Free Democrats could have been: classical liberals.”
But what does Bavaria mean for Berlin, i.e. national politics? Nothing that we didn’t know a week ago already. Angela Merkel’s hold on power continues to become weaker, the ties that bind her three-way coalition keep fraying. The first link to break may be the Social Democrats (SPD), who got a humiliating 9.7 percent in Bavaria yesterday. They are atrophying before our eyes in this coalition with Merkel that they never wanted to enter again. And they want out.
So watch as the pressure rises on SPD boss Andrea Nahles to break the pact. The heat comes from the next generation of Social Democrats, such as Kevin Kühnert, the leader of the SPD’s youth organization. Last night he made scathing fun of the older Social Democrats, who all trotted through the TV studios promising “thorough analysis.” Enough, Kühnert said, and many in the party’s rank and file agree.
But nothing will happen for the next two weeks. Then, on October 28th, the Hessians go to the polls, and will probably give the coalition parties yet another drubbing. The Social Democrats could walk out of the coalition after that. If so, Merkel will come under even more pressure not to run again as leader of the Christian Democrats at the party convention in Hamburg on December 6-9. She could still stay on for a bit longer as chancellor, either in a new coalition with the Greens and Free Democrats, or in a minority government (which I happen to favor). But everybody would know that she is then a mere placeholder for the next CDU leader.
While the Greens in Bavaria were thumbing their noses at the CSU and AfD, so did a huge crowd of about 240,000 people from all walks of life in Berlin. Under the banner of #unteilbar (“indivisible”), they took over the party stretch in central Berlin, west and east of the Brandenburg Gate, to demonstrate against all forms of bigotry and in favor of an open, tolerant, and cosmopolitan Germany. That “silent majority” everybody keeps talking about has apparently stopped being silent. No nationalist party or group could organize that kind of turnout. This is what a healthy democracy looks like.
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