OPINION

Precious welfare

The German election result reflects public apprehension over the fate of that country’s much-treasured social welfare system. In fact, it’s more than that. Considering that the Social Democrats (SPD) have been in government for seven years, the tissue-thin election victory of the Christian Democrats (CDU) signaled a rejection of their free market, or so-called neo-liberal, reforms and of similar proposals made by outgoing Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. Stunningly, even though Angela Merkel’s conservatives were in opposition for seven years they managed to lose 3.3 percent of their electoral support. Over the same period, the Free Democrats, Merkel’s pro-business allies, went up by 2.4 percent but failed to make up for the CDU losses. In other words, the alliance that was tipped to score a comfortable victory at the elections scored 0.9 percent lower than it did in the 2002 vote. The damage was deeper in the rival camp. Nevertheless, it is interesting to see where left-of-center voters defected to. The SPD lost 4.2 percent while the Greens lost 0.5 percent – a total of 4.7 percent. That went to the Left Party, an alliance of ex-communists and left-wing defectors from the SPD that grabbed 8.7 percent of the vote. Adding together the votes of the leftist parties makes 51.1 percent, that is the support they got in 2002. The poor results of the conservatives, after being sidelined for seven years, can only be a sign of public disapproval. The mood is confirmed by the fact that the ruling party only lost voters to a left-wing party. The reason is fairly straightforward. The German public, whom Merkel did not try to con by disguising reforms behind a veil of welfare rhetoric, do not want to see workers being the perennial victims in a society that is much wealthier than it was 30 years ago. And they cast their vote accordingly.