It has become a pattern in several European countries: The Muslim electorate tips the balance towards the Left. In Germany, too, Turkish immigrants are likely to play the pivotal role in the general elections next Sunday. All the parties are hoping to attract their votes.
The regional elections in a number of German states in late August did not go as expected for Chancellor Angela Merkel. Her Christian-Democrats had hoped for clear victories over their Socialist coalition partner. This would allow the Christian-Democrats to swap the Social-Democrat SPD of the uncharismatic Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Germany’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, for the Liberal FDP after the elections.
If the SPD can prevent Chancellor Merkel from forming a center-right coalition with the Free Democrats next Sunday, it is likely that a political price will have to be paid to the immigrants who made this possible. Earlier, voters of Muslim origin also tipped the electoral balance in major European cities such as Antwerp and Rotterdam. The beneficiaries of this have always been the Socialists, who are now running these cities, welcoming more immigrants in what seems to be a move to supplant their former blue-collar native electorate.
Lale Akgun, an SPD candidate in Cologne, told Hurriyet: “Merkel has introduced regulations to make family reunion difficult. [ ] Meetings took place to deceive us. She will go further if she wins.” Aydan Ozoguz, an SPD candidate in Hamburg, says: “The SPD, Greens and even liberal Free Democrats have been paying more attention to migrant-related issues. We are rethinking double citizenship, for example. We are also defending that long-time residents can vote in the local elections even if they are not citizens.”
Unfortunately for Mrs. Merkel, the Left did well in the state elections, so that next Sunday’s general elections have suddenly become a very close race. If the Christian-Democrats of CDU/CSU and the FDP are able to form a majority in Parliament, they will undoubtedly do so. Four years ago, Merkel already had such a center-right coalition in mind, but the 2005 election forced her into a centrist, so-called “Grand Coalition” with the SPD. If, next Sunday, Merkel’s party and the Liberals again fail to win 50% of the seats in the Bundestag, Germany is in for difficult and frustrating coalition talks in the following weeks.
As in many countries, the German electoral system is complicated. Being Germany, the system is extraordinarily complicated. The country has an electoral threshold of 5%. However, in every district only half of the seats are directly elected, the other half of the seats are proportionally assigned to the parties. Suppose that a district has 60 seats. Party A, with 33% of the votes, wins 15 of the 30 directly elected seats - which is possible when the other votes go to small parties unable to obtain 5%. The other 30 seats are proportionally assigned. Having won 33% of the votes, party A is entitled to 33 % of the 60 seats in the district, hence to 20 seats. Since it already won 15 seats in the direct elections, it gets an additional 5 seats.
Suppose, however, that party A with 33% won 25 of the 30 district seats - which, again, is possible when the other votes go to a lot of small parties that failed to obtain 5%. Then the party has won 25 seats where it is theoretically entitled to only 20 mandates. In this case, the party is allowed to keep its additional seats. These mandates are called “overhang seats” (Uberhangmandate).
Since it is unknown beforehand how many “overhang seats” there will be, it is unknown before the elections what the number of seats in the Bundestag will be. This varies in every legislature. In the present parliament, there were 16 “overhang seats” - nine for the SPD and seven for the CDU/CSU. In the final analysis, in a closely fought election, the Uberhangmandate can decide who has the majority in parliament.
If Merkel and the FDP fail to win half the seats in the Bundestag, the only viable government is likely to be a repetition of the current “Grand Coalition,” unless Mr. Steinmeier succeeds in becoming Chancellor by putting together a coalition with a combination of the FDP, the Greens and the Left Party (Die Linke). The latter is the party of the former East-German Communists and the West-German far-Left. Die Linke did very well in the state elections, both in the East and in the West. In Thuringia it obtained 27.6% of the vote, coming second to the CDU with 31%; in the Western state of Saarland it got 21.3%.
In tightly fought elections, every vote becomes important. The Turkish newspaper Hurriyet remarked earlier this week that the migrant voters have become “the focal point of the German elections.” Hurriyet is particularly interested because Turks form the largest group of immigrants in Germany. Next Sunday, almost 800,000 German voters of Turkish origin are expected to vote. This has not only forced all the major parties to put Turkish candidates on their lists, but has also led them to outcompete each other in catering to their demands. The parties of the Left, however, go further in this respect than those of the Right.
“The dark-haired voters [sic] will show themselves. The Turkish community is the majority of the up to 5 million migrants in Germany [which has a total of 82 million inhabitants], and it is a great chance to voice their basic demands,” says Safter Cinar, the spokesman of the Turkish Association in Berlin. Cinar is very critical, however, of Chancellor Merkel. “The CDU firmly rejects our main demands, such as double citizenship and local election rights for long-term residents. They are also not supportive of mother-tongue education rights.”
The parties on the Left enjoy large Turkish support. “Socialists grow stronger as migrants gain ground,” says Bekir Albogas of the Turkish Islamic Union DITIB in Cologne. DITIB is the Cologne branch of Diyanet, the department of religious affairs of Turkey, which reports directly to the Turkish Prime Minister, Tayyip Erdogan. In February 2008, during a visit to Cologne, Mr. Erdogan denounced assimilation of migrants as a “crime against humanity” and exhorted Turkish immigrants not to become Germans.