In an era of political upstarts, Germany’s biggest election drama features a more traditional player: Christian Lindner, a young career politician based in Düsseldorf familiar with the national stage, is attempting to return his Free Democratic Party (FDP) to its customary role of kingmaker in German politics. If he succeeds, it could be a game changer for Germany’s next government and provide a pathway out of the current comfortable but suffocating grand coalition between the conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) and the Social Democrats (SPD). Over the last several years in which the two major parties have been aligned, they have diluted their identities to meet in the middle. Although stable, the grand coalition has failed to inspire.
Lindner’s chances of achieving that goal will become clearer after Sunday’s state election in North Rhine-Westphalia, in which the FDP is expected to win well over ten percent of the vote. Combined with its strong showing in the Schleswig-Holstein state elections, the party should make its way back into the federal parliament and could join forces with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU and, if needed, the Greens, to form a government.
Historically, the FDP, which adheres to economic and social liberalism, has been a pivotal player in Germany politics. It has worked as a junior partner to form governments with the CDU or the center-left SPD. Hans-Dietrich Genscher, the statesman who navigated German reunification in 1989, unfortunately saw his beloved FDP diminish in stature in the last few years of his life. The first sign came when the Greens usurped the FDP to establish a government with the SPD in 1998. The downfall was complete in 2013, when the party couldn’t muster the five percent threshold to enter parliament, a crushing blow for a party that had been active in German politics for over six decades.
Today the German political landscape is highly fragmented. A record five parties (the Greens, the Alternative for Germany, the Christian Social Union, the Left, and