GERMANY goes to the polls tomorrow certain that Angela Merkel will once again be elected chancellor but the political landscape is expected to change dramatically.
Polls indicate that “Mummy Merkel” – Mrs Merkel is campaigning on a platform that only she can nurture Germany through tough times, like any good mother in any family – will win a third term but fall short of an outright majority.
That is nothing new in Germany where coalitions have been the order of the day.
However, for the past four years Mrs Merkel has governed with the Liberal FDP as her partners, a party of pro-business, pro-conservative parliamentarians pretty much in step with her conservative CDU values.
Unfortunately for Mrs Merkel the numbers pre-polling day are crunching on the wrong side of disastrous for the FDP.
All the indications are that she may end up having to forge an alliance with her political polar opposite, Germany’s “Labour” party, the SPD.
Privately, according to media reports, SPD leader Peer Steinbrueck is already resigned to spending the next four years as the junior partner in a coalition of unequals.
Muddying already murky waters still further, however, are a number of pop-up parties, the most media savvy of which is the anti-euro Alternative for Germany, and the anarchic Pirates. In short, they could draw support away from both major political forces and create an uncertain political landscape at a time when Germany seeks to keep its role as saviour of the common currency along with its pre-eminent economic power on the continent.
“It used to be that 30 per cent of the voters would vote for the Christian Democrats no matter what the party said or did,” said Stephan Werhahn, a grandson of Konrad Adenauer, the country’s first post-Second World War leader after the fall of the Third Reich.
He added: “Today, the voters orient themselves according to their personal interests.
“The parties have had to take over more issues that are not in harmony with their basic principles, in order to attract these voters.”
It is the FDP which has felt the wrath of the floating voter more than any other. After scoring 15 per cent in the 2009 election, it faces falling under the 5 per cent hurdle necessary to even get seats in parliament this time around.
That means the spectre of a “grand coalition” between Left and Right seems all the more likely to materialise.
Fundamentally, not much will change in the day-to-day business of Germany.
Both parties are committed to saving the euro, both are committed to the “Mittelstand” – small-to-medium-sized businesses that form the backbone of the export-led economy.
But the devil lies in the detail.
The SPD is a party of higher taxes, minimum wages and workers’ rights, limited military involvement abroad and a host of neo-liberal family policies certain to rub against Mrs Merkel’s avowed intent to carry on with austerity.
Her first term in power was spent in such a coalition with the SPD – indeed Mr Steinbrueck served as her finance minister.
The pace of legislation was often sclerotic because of the differences between the two parties and there was an omnipresent feeling among the SPD that they were merely tolerated rather than true power-sharers.
Both Mrs Merkel and Mr Steinbrueck have said publicly they don’t want a repeat of this shotgun marriage.
In fact, Mr Steinbrueck has said he would lead Germany in a coalition with the Greens, but this is wishful thinking.
The Greens have slumped to single digit figures for the first time in four years and no-one believes they can claw it back tomorrow.
The SPD has called a meeting of 200 party members five days after tomorrow’s poll to decide how to proceed with coalition talks with Mrs Merkel.
“There are many within the SPD who oppose the idea of going into a grand coalition with Merkel’s bloc,” said Manfred Guellner, managing director of the pollster Forsa.
“They want assurances they will not merely be ‘Mummy’s Boys’ at her beck and call for the next four years,” he added.
However, politicians crave power above all else. If it is a coalition or nothing, the SPD will underwrite Europe’s most powerful woman for a historic third term come what may.