Could populist gains be ‘therapeutic’ for German democracy?


Germany’s Angela Merkel began the tough task of trying to build a government on Monday after securing a fourth term as chancellor, urging the center-left Social Democrats not the shut the door on a re-run of their “grand coalition,” Reuters reports:

Damaged by her decision two years ago to allow more than one million migrants into Germany, Merkel’s conservative bloc secured 33 percent of the vote, losing 8.5 points — its lowest level since 1949. Her coalition partners, the center-left Social Democrats, also slumped and said they would go into opposition. Voters flocked to the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD), the first far-right party to enter the German parliament in more than half a century. However, the AfD hardly had time to savor its third-place showing before it fell into internal bickering.

The Alternative for Germany’s entry into the German parliament is not normal — it’s an attack on our liberal democracy, one that all the other parties must fight. That’s just one reason that going into opposition is the right decision by the Social Democrats, argues Der Spiegel.

The result could even reinvigorate German democracy, The Economist suggests:

The SPD is returning to opposition, where [SPD leader Martin]Schulz’s natural pugilism will come into its own and, together with the modernising energies of figures like Manuela Schwesig, could enable the party to go into the post-Merkel election in 2021 revived and newly competitive. In the meantime it may well outshine the chaotic and infighting-ridden AfD, which will be forced by the rigours of the legislature to alienate parts of its sprawling and disjointed electoral coalition (“the relationship between the AfD and its voters is weak”, notes Cas Mudde, an authority on populism). 

“You will have a much stronger polarization, and there will be more debate in the Bundestag. The cozy times that we lived in are over,” says Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff, director of the Europe Program at the German Marshall Fund of the United States in Berlin. “I would consider that a good thing. Even though there will be surprises on the far-right, this Bundestag is more representative of what the mood in the country is, more than the previous one is, and that is not a bad thing for democracy as such.”

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