Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Paul Wells' German election punditry misfires

Macleans scribe Paul Wells takes a stab at offering up a "slightly higher-value talking point" with respect to Sunday's Bundestagwahl by suggesting that "[t]he Tom Flanagan argument, that coalitions should only be valid if they advertise their makeup before everyone gets to vote, wasn’t followed in Germany."

Since Tom Flanagan is a fellow card carrying Wildroser and even a fellow Danielle Smith booster, I feel compelled to dispute the contention that the German electoral experience undermines his "argument" despite my disinclination to take up the cause of curmudgeons.

Although it may be technically true that Angela Merkel reserved for herself the prerogative of who her party's coalition partner might be, the real issue is whether the various parties clarified for voters prior to the election which coalition possibilities were on the table and which were out of the question.

On August 18 Der Spiegel published an interview with FDP leader Westerwelle headlined with Westerwelle's declaration that "'I Consider a ["traffic light"] Coalition With the SPD and Greens Out of the Question." If "the Tom Flanagan argument" is that a party's credibility may at risk if it entertains any and all coalition possibilities, the financial daily Handelsblatt effectively affirmed it by stating that in Germany "the FDP's credibility would be at risk in the traffic light coalition." Instead of calling Canadian Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff's attention to the fact that the biggest winner on Sunday was the politician who declared unequivocally that "socialists and communists must not be allowed to rule [my country]," Wells seems think that a noncommittal Liberal party should be "comforted" by the German results.

A September 21 post on a blog run by the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies makes it clear that the major German parties made a point of sending a "signal to voters" about "possible coalitions" before voting day:
This weekend the Free Democrats and the Green Party held party conventions in Potsdam and Berlin to send a last-minute signal to voters before next Sunday’s election.... the main message of this weekend was about possible coalitions...
The FDP voted unanimously in favor of a coalition with the CDU/CSU, ruling out a coalition with the SPD and the Greens (a so-called traffic light coalition) and leaving the door open for a Jamaica coalition with the CDU/CSU and the Greens. The Greens ruled out the Jamaica option and the SPD has promised not to form a coalition with the Left Party on the federal level.

If the experience of the German state of Hesse is any guide, the consequences of violating the Tom Flanagan rule may be the exact opposite of "nobody freaking out." When Hessian SPD leader Andrea Ypsilanti took a run at forming a coalition with the Left Party after the 2008 Hesse election, some of her own caucus rebelled to the extent that not only was Ypsilanti forced out of her party's leadership but the Hessian Landtag was dissolved and a new election held. The backlash against the SPD's political promiscuity was great enough that the party was hammered in the 2009 election, with enough SPD voters bleeding off to the FDP to create a CDU-FDP government for the state.

Given the very real possibility that the SPD's fiasco in Hesse contributed to the disastrous performance of the federal party on Sunday, if there is a lesson for Canadian politicians Ignatieff may be well advised to put Layton and/or Duceppe explicitly on his dance card before the next election if he intends to contemplate any tangoing post-election.

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