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Grand coalition and opposition agreement

The results of the German election (CDU/CSU: 35, SPD: 34, FDP:10, Communists:9, Green:8, others:4) seem to be completely analogous to the results in other countries with the proportional system, especially the Czech Republic which I will use as an example how generic these things are. I will explain why the typical results of such elections are confusing - and more or less always the same - which is why we may want to favor the U.S. majority system or to try to "emulate" the majority system using the so-called opposition agreement.

In both cases, Germany and Czechia, there are two major mainstream parties on the left side and the right side from the political center. In the German case, it's the CDU (plus CSU) on the right and SPD on the left. In the Czech case, it is the ODS (Civic Democratic Party) on the right and again the Social democrats on the left. Not a big deal. The U.S. also have two large parties.

The victorious one among the two large parties is always the condensation core for a new government and neither of them ever gets much more than 35 percent or so. Coalition partners are necessary. The most important right-wing coalition partner in Germany is the pro-business libertarian FDP (free democrats) while it is the Christian Democrats in the Czech Republic (who are ready to join any government and they in fact used to be center-left a few years ago). Yes, in some sense, you may think that the leading and subleading right-wing parties are kind of exchanged because the leading ODS may be more similar to the sub-dominant FDP while the other right-wing party is even called "Christian Democrats" in both countries.

In Germany, the Greens are the left-wing coalition partner of choice. The Czech Republic has no powerful green party and the Christian Democrats can play the role of the appendix both in the left-wing and right-wing governments. Both in Germany and Czechia, the communists are viewed as unacceptable for the mainstream governments - a rule that is much weaker than a physical law.

At any rate, it seems that CDU plus FDP won't have a parliamentary majority; the results of CDU/CSU seem unimpressive compared to the expectations (while FDP did better than expected). There are two obvious choices:

  • the first one is the so-called Grand Coalition (CDU plus SPD). We use the very same term for the left-right coalition in the Czech Republic, too (where it is a hypothetical coalition of ODS and CSSD). In Germany, the Grand Coalition would be formed without Gerhard Schroeder.
  • the "traffic light" (red-yellow-green) coalition - SPD (red) plus FDP (yellow) plus Greens (green)
  • the "double left coalition" - the complement of CDU plus FDP - which means SPD plus Greens plus the double-communist party "Die Linke" (composed of the communists from DDR plus the communists formerly from SPD). SPD has declared that they would not form a coalition with the double-communists - much like some Czech Social Democrats declare that they would not join a coalition with the "ordinary" Czech communists.
Actually, the Czech Republic has tried another, very different kind of resolution of these confusing results of the elections. After the elections in 1998, the Social Democrats became the strongest party but they could not form a majority government. Klaus (currently the 2nd Czech president) who was a leader of ODS (that lost the elections a bit - elections that followed some fictitious scandals after which he had to resign in 1997 from the prime minister chair) respected that the Social Democrats led by Milos Zeman deserved to form the government and he invented the so-called opposition agreement; it was eventually signed by Zeman and Klaus who used to be the most visible opponents on the Czech political scene but who nevertheless shared many personal characteristics and some degree of a mutual respect. (An open Grand Coalition was unthinkable back in 1998 because they had said too many bad things about each other.)

According to the agreement, Zeman could form a minority government. The Civic Democrats promised that they would "tollerate" the government. Klaus became the chairman of the Parliament. Although this agreement has been criticized heavily by many ordinary people and various intellectuals (usually those who think that any politics in democracy is dirty), it seems pretty clear today that it was the best choice in 1998. Also, the social democratic Zeman installed his own kind of reaganomics in the Czech Republic which worked pretty well and may be (among other positive changes) credited for the current 5% growth of the Czech economy. In principle, both parties had the choice of cancelling the agreement, but the probability of this happening was clearly lower than the probability of some other instabilities - and it did not happen at the end.

The social democratic minority government 1998-2002 was much more stable than the (slight) majority governments led by the Social Democrats since 2002 (we already have the third prime minister after Zeman).

The Grand Coalition is a mess. It completely confuses who is responsible for what - and it is a kind of one-party system. Moreover, it is completely unfair that the Grand Coalition is the most likely outcome in 2005: it is more likely than in 2002 exactly because the "grand" parties have lost about 10 percentage points! My idea would be the opposition agreement signed by Merkel and Schroeder. Schroeder (or someone else from SPD) would become the chairman of the Bundestag or something along these lines while Merkel could form a minority government composed of CDU/CSU only or CDU/CSU with the FDP that the SPD would tollerate. I think this is a fair way to circumvent the proportional system in which the results are almost always ambiguous.

At any rate, it is likely that Merkel, an Eastern German physicist, will become the first German female chancellor. The German-American (and Euro-American) relations will improve. The socialist language will weaken in Germany. But we will have to see whether the actual policies will move anywhere.

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