Feature

Concluded, but hardly conclusive.

The week's news at a glance.

German elections

It was “a vote without a victor,” said Hamburg’s Der Spiegel in an editorial. Germans have voted for their parliament—but nobody has won. For weeks, commentators had been predicting a resounding win by Angela Merkel of the right-wing Christian Democratic Union (CDU). It was an easy call: Chancellor Gerhard Schröder of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) has been unpopular for months, largely because of rampant unemployment. Opinion polls showed Merkel with a clear lead. But when the results came out, Merkel’s party had only the barest edge over Schröder’s, at 35 percent to 34 percent. Neither party can rule outright, and we won’t know who is to be chancellor until a governing coalition is struck, possibly weeks from now. Why didn’t the press see this coming?

Because that would require real digging and thinking, said Stephan Hebel in the Frankfurt, Germany, Frankfurter Rundschau. Most German reporters are lazy. Evaluating the campaign issues is too complicated, so they fall back on platitudes. For this election, they traced all of Germany’s problems to a lack of money in state coffers, and the solution seemed obvious: “Take money out of social programs.” Since that was Merkel’s platform, she was anointed the probable winner. The journalists’ “neoliberal bias” blinded them to the reality that the electorate was divided.

That division is ominous for German politics, said the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in an editorial. Merkel was the only politician with “the courage to tell Germans that their country was in crisis.” She was not afraid to question the social contracts and the labor laws that have left us with high unemployment and low growth. Such candor was not appreciated. Our citizens are evidently not eager to “recognize the need for fundamental changes.” Other parties will surely draw the appropriate conclusion. “Who will dare ever to offer an ambitious reform program again?”

The close election results are equally bad news for Schröder, said Ralph Bollmann in Berlin’s taz. Ever since he decided to call early elections, instead of waiting until next year, he’s been “caught in an altogether tragic vortex of denial.” He has completely lost touch with the voters and with the rules of politics. If the election outcome had been clear, Schröder’s strange divorce from reality could, perhaps, have been hidden. But with the vote so close, the man actually celebrated his loss as if it were a win. In a bizarrely triumphant speech, he vowed to remain chancellor even in a “grand coalition” with Merkel’s CDU. All that did was bolster Merkel’s standing in her party.

Heribert Prantl

Süddeutsche Zeitung

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