Saxony, 2014: FDP out, AfD in

The German state of Saxony voted today. The most noteworthy outcome of the election is that the Alternative for Germany (AfD) has replaced the Free Democrats (FDP) in the state’s assembly. Both parties just missed clearing the nationwide threshold in the national elections last year. For the FDP, today’s result continues a streak of bad results. For the AfD it represents their first seats in any state legislature. And it was not a close call: the party won 9.7% of the vote.

The Christian Democratic Union (CDU) remains the largest party, on 39.4%, with the Linke (Left) in a distant second (18.9%). The Social Democrats (SPD) won 12.4%. Greens are at 5.7%, and the National Democrats fall just below the threshold at 4.9%.

The outgoing government was a CDU-FDP coalition. What will the new one be? It would seem it would be CDU-SPD. Is that now set to be the “natural” coalition in German state and national politics?

Piggyback MPs

[Update: I am adding this to the Germany block, due to a discussion that has arisen in the comments.]

Under New Zealand’s variant of Mixed-Member Proportional (MMP), there are two alternative thresholds for receiving party-list seats. Either a party must obtain over 5% of the party-list vote, or else it must win a single district (electorate) and sufficient party-list votes to elect two or more MPs in total (even if its list vote is under 5%).

The latter path towards winning proportional representation seats is referred to in New Zealand as “coat-tailing”. I suppose New Zealanders can call it whatever they want, as long as it is clear to them, given that it’s their electoral system and a problem pretty much unique to them. But I don’t like the term. I understand coat tails as support on one vote (e.g. for congress) that is enhanced by having a popular candidate for another (e.g. president). But that is not what we see in New Zealand. We are talking about an alternative threshold for representation in a single institution, not voting across institutions. Moreover, a case of high coattails normally would mean reduced ticket-splitting. By contrast, in New Zealand, what seems to trouble many commentators (including the Electoral Commission in its MMP Review) is precisely incentives to ticket-split, not by abandoning a small party on the electorate vote (which might be the “normal” type of split-ticket voting under MMP), but in favor of a small party in the electorate vote. For example: National-favoring voters in Epsom voting for the local Act candidate, who had a chance at winning the electorate (and did indeed win it), but giving their list vote to National. The objection is that these voters seem to have more weight by virtue of living in a district that is so safe for one party that a small partner party can win it. But that’s not coattails, as usually understood.

In any case, this was not meant to be just a screed over terminology (though who doesn’t love such screeds?). I wanted to note that a new party in New Zealand, the Internet Party, can win seats only through this provision, whatever we might call it. The IP (good acronym for them!) has formed an alliance with the Mana Party, whose leader, Hone Harawira, has a safe Maori electorate (Te Tai Tokerau).* If Internet Mana were to win enough list votes for two seats, but elect only the one Mana candidate, then the IP would get a candidate via the list (its leader holds the number one slot on the joint list), even without coming near 5% of the list vote. In fact, about 1.3% of the vote would be sufficient.**

Yet the IP actually is against the so-called coat-tailing!

There seems to be a flaw in the process, and it is not necessarily the provision for the alternative threshold. It is in how alliances are allowed to take advantage:

In the Internet Party’s case it could potentially create a public backlash as its alliance with Mana expires just six weeks after the election.

Yes, that would seem backlash-worthy.

As for what to call this type of entry into parliament, I offer a suggestion in the title of this post.

* In this electorate, Labour has done something clever: nominate its local candidate, Kelvin Davis, to a rather low list position. “His ranking of 18 would blunt a Mana tactic of asking people to vote for Mr Harawira because Mr Davis had a safe list spot and would be an MP anyway.

** A potential fly in the ointment is that Mana might elect two electorate MPs, in which case IP is out of luck, unless the list vote goes considerably higher. In fact, if you are a Maori voter in the one non-safe but within-reach electorate for Mana, and you do not happen to like the alliance with IP, your strategy is clear: vote for the Mana candidate, and you get to help block the IP.

The impact of M=96 and no legal threshold

The decision of the German Constitutional Court to invalidate the legal threshold for election of MEPs has been predictably consequential. Given the single 96-seat district, a very large number of parties has won at least one seat, and some have won with less than 1% of the vote.

There will be thirteen parties (counting the CDU and CSU separately) in the German delegation. Seven of them had less than the former 3% threshold; the biggest of the sub-3% parties had not even quite 1.5%. The German government reports the votes; seats are shown at Wikipedia.

Assuming the Wikipedia list is accurate (and it looks likely to be so), these parties that won representation thanks to the Court ruling are: Free Voters, Pirates, Human Environment Animal Protection, National Democrats (yes, a German neo-Nazi will be in the European Parliament), Family Party, Ecological Democrats, and some outfit called Die PARTEI. The last three of these have vote totals ranging from 0.69% down to 0.63%. The NPD’s vote percentage was 1.03.

Also noteworthy is that the Free Democrats continued their slide, winning only 3.36%. They had just missed the 5% threshold for the federal Bundestag elections last year. The Alternative for Germany (AfD), which also had just missed the threshold for the Bundetag won 7.04%.

No threshold for German MEPs

Apparently it is threshold day at F&V. While Israel may be raising its threshold, Germany will be dramatically lowering its. But only for its members of the European parliament (MEPs).

The Constitutional Court ruled in late February that the existing 3% threshold violated political parties’ rights to equal opportunities.

To the immediate question of why, then, the Bundestag (Germany’s elected chamber of the federal parliament) can have a 5% threshold–which was highly consequential in the most recent election–the Court has a ready answer: the role of the Bundestag is to sustain a government, and so limiting fragmentation is a valid interest. However, the European Parliament has no such role, and so it isn’t.

The SPD vote on joining German coalition

The German Social Democratic Party (SPD) membership voted 76% in favor of ratifying the coalition agreement struck by its leadership with the leaders of the Christian Democratic and Christian Social Unions. They will now enter the not-so-grand coalition headed by Angela Merkel, who enters her third term as German Chancellor.

Michael Miebach, deputy director of the Progressives Zentrum think tank, quoted in the Guardian before the vote, summed it all up well:

“It looks more and more like an ingenious chess move that solves several problems at once. Instead of debating the disastrous election result or even the detail of the coalition deal, everyone’s talking about the ballot,” Miebach said. “It will keep in check party rebels who complain that they weren’t asked, and it has proved a useful tool during the negotiations with Merkel. But of course, it could still all end in disaster.”

The chances of an end in “disaster” presumably were never strong, for the reasons Miebach offers elsewhere in the quote. That did not prevent the same Guardian article from saying that a vote against “would lead to nothing short of a national crisis”. Hyperbole? We won’t get to find out.

According to the first-linked news story, at DW,

The CDU will have the chancellor and five ministers. Its sister party, the CSU, will have three ministries. The SPD will have six.

The SPD will have the Justice and Consumer Protection portfolio, which is a newly combined ministry, as well as:

the foreign ministry, a Ministry of Economic Affairs now enhanced with an energy policy mandate, the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, the Ministry of the Environment and the Ministry of Family Affairs.

It also gets a Vice Chancellorship.

With six of 15 ministers, the SPD has 40% of the cabinet. The coalition parties control just under 80% of the seats in the Bundestag. The SPD has about 30% of the seats, which corresponds to 38% of the cabinet’s parliamentary basis. So it is represented in cabinet at very slightly above its contribution to the cabinet’s collective Bundestag representation.

How common are party membership ballots to ratify coalition agreements?

German coalition agreement

The CDU, CSU, and SPD have concluded a coalition agreement. It must be ratified by the SPD membership in a postal ballot.

My immediate reaction is that the SPD did quite well. The lack of other alternatives–the Greens had already broken off earlier talks on forming a coalition with the CDU and CSU–and the real risk that the SPD members could veto whatever deal was struck seems to have resulted in quite significant concessions from the CDU and CSU, given that the latter conservative “Union” parties were only a few seats short of a majority on their own.

The SPD gets its demand for a minimum wage of 8.50 euros, but it will still be possible through 2016 for employers and unions to agree to a lower wage. The parties compromised their positions on renewable energy targets and pension eligibility. The CSU obtained its demand for freeway tolls for vehicles registered in other countries (as long as it is consistent with EU law).

Clips of each of the three party leaders at a press conference (dubbed into English) announcing the deal are available on DW. It is noteworthy that the CSU leader speaks separately, and last of the three. We often speak of the “CDU/CSU” as if it were effectively a single party. And, in terms of not competing against each other in elections and, at least so far, not having gone into or out of government without the other, they do act almost as one. Yet it is clear that in coalition bargaining, they are separate parties. If one watches the clips, one sees the CSU leader, Horst Seehofer, specifically claim credit for achievements for his party. He mentions that the “grand coalition” was always his preference (implicitly suggesting others might have had a different preference), and he mentions concessions favorable to the states (his party is active in a single state, Bavaria), as well as the freeway-tolls deal.

“Peak of her power”; “presidential style”; etc.

Early in the days of this blog, I spent a fair amount of time pointing out how dumb much of the standard media reporting on comparative (or, for that matter, US) politics is. For instance, this gem from Business Week:  “Merkel Dominating German Coalition Talks Attains Peak of Power.”

Doing so was the low-hanging fruit, so to speak.

Now I mostly can’t be bothered. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have at it…