German Chancellor Angela Merkel delivers a speech during an election rally of Christian Democratic Union (CDU) for Germany's federal election in Schwerin, Germany, on Sept. 19, 2017. Germans will elect a new federal parliament on Sept. 24. (Xinhua/Shan Yuqi)
by Ren Ke
BERLIN, Sept. 20 (Xinhua) -- It's almost certain that German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Union Party will win the most votes in the federal election on Sept. 24, but uncertainties still remain concerning the performance of smaller parties, which may play key roles in the formation of a new German government.
According to the latest polling, the Union, formed by Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister Christian Social Union (CSU), are enjoying a comfortable lead over the Social Democratic Party (SPD), with a support rate of around 36 percent versus around 23 percent.
German people and media organizations believe that the CDU/CSU will win the most votes and the SPD the second most in the election to be held in less than a week.
Despite SPD leader Martin Schulz's spare-no-effort attitude, many German people believe that the SPD lost their last chance to change the game after the bloodless TV debate between Merkel and the former European Parliament president.
But the story will not end here, as what's more important is the formation of the new government, in which smaller parties will play key roles, or even serve as kingmakers by joining hands with one of the two big parties.
These smaller parties -- the Greens, the Free Democratic Party (FDP), Die Linke (The Left), and the far-right Alternative fuer Deutschland (AfD) -- are in a tight race to become the third largest party in the Bundestag.
According to polling results, the support rates of all four of the smaller parties stand at eight to 11 percent.
However, voter turnout, uncertain as it is, could still be a game changer in the election. Many people have not yet decided whether they will vote or, if they do, which party they will vote for. Schulz said, perhaps in exaggeration, that almost half of voters had not decided.
Among those who are undecided, some believe that Merkel's refugee policies are too radical and don't take into consideration the interests of the German people. However, they do not want to support the anti-immigration AfD either.
Some German voters perceive all the parties as having little difference to one another and their policies are converging, thus resulting in their indecision.
Voter turnout and swing votes may not change the situation between the CDU/CSU and the SPD, but may largely decide the standings of smaller parties.
The German election rule sets a 5-percent-vote hurdle to be elected into the Bundestag, excluding other smaller parties. The German electoral system makes it very difficult for any one party to form a government on its own.
Therefore, an alliance of parties is common practice, but a game between parties will take place before an alliance is forged.
If the conservatives and their natural alliance the liberal FDP can win over 40 percent of votes and FDP can secure 10 percent as expected, it will be quite simple to form a government as they will win majority of the Bundestag.
If the Union and FDP perform as they are expected in polls, party coalition will not be a simple task. In a grand coalition in the outgoing government, the SPD found that their support rate was "eroded" by the Union as the conservatives won support from social democrats' followers by pursuing leftist and liberal policies focusing on social justice.
Realizing that the SPD, a party with a glorious history dating back to the first Industrial Revolution, will gradually become a smaller party in Germany, Schulz once said the SPD would not form another grand coalition with the Union after the election.
If the Union and the social democrats join hands again, the AfD is likely to become the largest opposition party in the Bundestag.
Professor Paul Nolte with Free University Berlin, an historian on right-wing extremism in Germany, told Xinhua that this scenario would give advantage to AfD as the speaker of the opposition and thus strengthen its influence, which most German people are not willing to see. Therefore, the scenario will push government formation far away from the grand coalition.
Therefore, the Union has to find another alliance among the small parties. As every party has ruled out any possibilities of cooperating with AfD, and Merkel once denied allying with the Left, the Union is likely to turn to the Greens to form a "Jamaica coalition" so called because the party colors correspond to the Jamaican flag.
However, the Greens and the liberal-minded FDP are at odds with each other on environmental protection and other issues, and it is not easy to coordinate with a government formed with the right, the center and the left.
In this case, the Union may not be able to form a government, while if SPD outperforms its expectations and is supported by Die Linke and the Greens, Schulz will be able to form a government with a majority in the Bundestag.
Although coalition among parties is not limited to these forms, the most possible forms will be decided upon the voting results. Despite many politicians' stances on coalition, adjustments will be possible after the election as the situation will be totally different from that of before.
Despite the uncertainties, observers believe that German politics will not be like that of France or the United States. The reason for their belief is that Germany has suffered from great tragedies of far-right populism and, as such, social justice and social democracy is deeply embedded in German people's minds.
Furthermore, in a world where populism is gaining momentum in many major Western countries, Germany may send a positive signal as a stabilizer.