The Christian Democrats' centrist policies have won what amounts to an historic victory in Germany today, but a failure on the part of the CDU's preferred coalition partners, the Free Democrats (FDP), to reach the five percent vote that would keep it in the Bundestag, leaves Angela Merkel's government in a potentially vulnerable long term position.
According to preliminary returns, Merkel is only one vote shy of an absolute parliamentary majority and it is assumed that she either will find that vote somewhere or have to form a nominal coalition with her main adversaries, the Social Democrats.
The trouble is, without the liberal (free market) FDP padding her majority, Merkel will have a hard time imposing her centrist program in any definable way over a long period. There may be a Hegelian dialectic visible in this election, it seems to me, with a big victory that plants the seeds of inevitable decay within the relatively short time span or a year or two.
Ms Merkel's huge win (41.7 percent) is based not so much on any policy set as on a general desire of Germans at this time to avoid extremes and to downplay personality politics. Merkel is like your pleasantly dowdy aunt, all common sense and little obvious ego. She speaks gratefully of "our" victory, not in the Obama trope, "my" victory.
But her coalition has prevailed to this point by stealing the issues of the Social Democrats and Greens on alternative energy and the decommissioning of nuclear plants. On the future of the Euro-Zone she extends charity to the irresponsible Greeks, for example, while demanding austerity in return.
However, these compromises are not necessarily stable. The energy issue, even by itself, threatens the longevity of Merkel's government since costs and prices are sure to go up steeply to indulge post-Fukishima green fears and delusions. The people who applauded the decision to abandon nuclear power may not be cheering the coming and inevitable rate hikes.
Merkel's effectively tiny majority in the Bundestag may not be able to ride out such changes in public sentiment when they come. With no cushion of liberal (libertarian) votes from the Free Democrats, it will only take a by-election defeat or two to precipitate a new general election. In other words, the Merkel government lacks vision and clarity, and ultimately that will hurt.
Surely in retrospect the CDU coalition (Christian Democrats and their Bavarian allies) would have done better to send some votes over to the FDP (Free Democrats) to help them over the five percent hump. A center-right coalition might have a longer life than a purely centrist majority that is shaky.