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German election explained: why is it always so hard to form a government?

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It is quite unusual for the two largest parties in a given country to form a coalition. In the UK, it took the second world war to bring such a grand coalition about.

Grand coalitions promise extreme stability, given that they provide an overwhelming majority. In parliament, it is easy to ignore the fringe voices within the governing parties, as their votes are not needed to pass legislation.

But it is not a good look for a democracy if the government is held to account by a pathetically small opposition. And yet the grand coalition of centre left and centre right has become the norm in 21st-century Germany. Germany was governed by a grand coalition between 2005 and 2009 and another came into power in 2013, governing ever since.

It’s a setup that should worry Germans more than it seems to. The big-tent parties – the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the conservative CDU/CSU – have haemorrhaged votes over several decades and the big question for the 2021 election will be whether this aberration can be at least put on hold.

A time traveller from the early 2000s would marvel at the idea that the SPD is pleased with its projected 25% in the 2021 election polls and laugh that this puts them ahead of the CDU. To the time traveller, 25% would seem devastatingly low. Social democrats and conservatives are in free fall – but falling just a bit slower than the other side will do for now.

To understand this long-term dynamic, we need to........

© The Conversation

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