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Rolf Steltemeier

After the first Bundestag elections in 1949, the Free Democratic Party (FDP) established itself as kingmaker either of the Christian Democrats or the Social Democrats. The entrance of the Green Party into the German Bundestag in 1983 brought about a significant change in the German political landscape, which challenged the German Liberals to redefine themselves. At present, it seems that the FDP is on its way back into the federal government after ten years of opposition, although "neoliberal" ideology is currently facing a severe international crisis. This constitutes a puzzling issue for political scientists, which is addressed in this article by analyzing the factors that can explain the German Liberal's latest success. Furthermore, the FDP's chances in comparison to the other two small parties (Left Party and Greens) are discussed. Finally, attention is focused on the characteristics of the FDP's election campaign and its coalition options for 2009 and beyond.

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James L. Newell

Gauging the effectiveness with which the challenge of the Five Star Movement (M5S) has been met by other parties, especially the Democratic Party (PD), is essential to understanding the evolution of both the M5S itself and the party system. In the case of the PD, the first strategy—attempting to co-opt the M5S—was partially successful in that its overtures to the M5S opened up significant internal divisions in Beppe Grillo's party. The second strategy—competing for votes—was more successful thanks to the superiority of the PD's organization on the ground. The third—diminishing the challenger's political resources—met with mixed success. The events surrounding the 2 October confidence motion and the election of Matteo Renzi as prime minister suggest that the fourth strategy—reinforcement of the party's own political resources—was deployed to good effect. The overall result was to contain the M5S's growth but leave the future uncertain.

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Marc Lazar

On 14 October 2007, primaries took place to elect the representatives

and political secretary of the Democratic Party (PD). According to

official figures provided by the organizers of the election, 3,554,169

people voted, with 75.79 percent choosing Walter Veltroni as secretary.

He, along with Romano Prodi and their friends, celebrated the results

in Rome on the same evening. The PD seemed to see the light of day

under the best possible conditions, but it also did so under peculiar

conditions. The electors who chose the leaders of the party were not

necessarily its future members, and they knew almost nothing about

the party’s status, organization, program, or strategy. The PD primaries

thus reflect a deep-seated trend that affects Western parties, yet

they also diverge from this trend. Although there is an increasing tendency

for primaries to be organized, they are usually held by parties

already in existence and, in the vast majority of cases, involve only the

members of that party.

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Hans Mommsen

The role of Konrad Adenauer in the proceedings of the Parliamentary Council in Bonn and his decision after his election as first federal chancellor not to form a coalition government with the Social Democratic Party paved the way to a fundamental transformation of the traditional German democratic paradigm versus the Anglo-Saxon concept of interaction between government and parliamentary opposition. The inherited pattern of constitutional democracy that had contributed to the structural weaknesses of Weimar parliamentarism was replaced by the concept of an interaction between government and opposition. Political parties took on the primary tasks of securing stable parliamentary majorities and providing sufficient electoral support for the chancellor. Adenauer's resolved political leadership, therefore, was an indispensable contribution to the reorientation of West German political culture from the former distrust of unrestricted parliamentary sovereignty toward Western democratic traditions.

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Frank Decker and Lazaros Miliopoulos

Right-wing extremist and populist parties operate in a rather difficult social and political environment in Germany, rendering notable electoral success fairly improbable, especially when compared to other European countries. The main reason for this is the continuing legacy of the Nazi past. Nevertheless the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD) managed to gain substantial votes in recent Land elections and became the leading force in the right-wing extremist political camp. Its success is attributable to rightwing extremist attitudes in some parts of the electorate in connection with a widespread feeling of political discontent. Nevertheless, it is questionable whether the NPD will be able to transform these attitudes into a viable ideological basis for two main reasons. On the one hand, maintaining a neo-Nazi ideology makes the NPD unattractive to many potential voters. On the other hand, given its internal power struggles and severe financial problems, the party may be unable to meet its challenges in organizational terms.

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Marjorie Lamberti

This article examines the complex interplay between the American military governor and German political leaders through an analysis of two crises that occurred over the making of the Basic Law. Why did a trial of strength between General Lucius Clay and the Social Democratic Party leadership in March and April 1949 come about? Understanding Clay's intervention in the politics of constitution-making in occupied Germany requires a more probing investigation than references to the temperament of a “proconsul” or a bias against a left-wing party. The analysis of Clay's intervention in this account shows how the Social Democrats evaded and challenged directives from the occupation authorities, and illuminates the limits of his influence over German framers of the Basic Law.

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Dan Hough and Michael Koß

Despite its recent electoral successes, the Left Party's position in the German party system is more fragile that it may at first appear. The Left Party gained support in 2005 largely on account of dissatisfaction with other parties and not because masses of voters were flocking to its (nominally socialist) cause. Not even a majority from within its own supporter base thought it possessed "significant problem solving competences." Rather, much of the Left Party's political discourse is based on negative dismissals of much that it sees—in policy terms—before it. We discuss the Left Party's political development through the prism of populist politics. After outlining what we understand populism to mean, we analyze the Left Party's programmatic stances and political strategy within the context of this framework. Although populism is certainly not the sole preserve of the Left Party, it clearly excels in using populist tools to make political headway. We conclude by discussing the ramifications that this has for German party politics in general and for the Social Democratic Party in particular.

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William E. Paterson and James Sloam

The 2009 German federal election marked a devastating defeat for the German Social Democratic Party (SPD). The debacle led some commentators to speculate about the end of the SPD as a “catch-all party“ and—given the recent poor performance of center-left parties across Europe—“the end of social democracy.“ In this article, we contextualize the result of the 2009 Bundestag election within the settings of German party politics and European social democracy, and show how the electoral disaster for the SPD can be explained by broad, long-term political developments. We nevertheless argue that the German Social Democrat's defeat in 2009 provides an opportunity for renewal at a time when the governing Conservative-Liberal coalition—already in disarray—must take some tough decisions with regard to the resource crunch in German public finances.

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Introduction

Merkeldämmerung

Eric Lagenbacher

The elections for the German Bundestag on 24 September 2017 saw heavy losses for the two governing parties—the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Social Democratic Party (SPD)—and the rise of the rightpopulist Alternative for Germany (AfD). It took almost six months for a new grand coalition to be formed in light of the extremely fragmented parliament. Despite the good economic situation and relative calm domestically and internationally, much change is occurring under the surface. Most importantly, the country is preparing for the end of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s long tenure. Who and what will come next? Can the surging AfD be contained? Will Germany step up into the leadership role for which so many have called?

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Jonathan Olsen

In the 2009 federal election, the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) achieved the worst electoral result in its history. Immediately afterwards, the party worked to improve its public image and fine-tune its policies and electoral message, hoping that state elections in the ensuring period might provide some momentum going into the next national election. Yet, in 2013, the Social Democrats improved their result only modestly, with Angela Merkel and the Christian Democratic/Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU) again gaining a decisive victory. This article explores the reasons behind the SPD's failure to radically improve its electoral showing, arguing that this can best be explained by a combination of the impact of the past—namely, the legacy of its economic reforms during the Schröder era and the SPD's disadvantages coming out of the previous Grand Coalition—as well as the weakness of its 2013 chancellor candidate, Peer Steinbrück, and the popularity of Angela Merkel. The article therefore suggests that the immediate future does not look particularly bright for the SPD: any chances of gaining the chancellorship are largely out of its hand, dependent on both stumbles by its rival, the CDU/CSU, as well as the taming of a possible coalition partner, the Left Party.