In an election year any scandal is bad news, but the mishandling of the NPD case could turn out to be much worse than the SPD expected.
The NPD scandal could turn the tables on the SPD's future
The current scandal is the last thing the Social Democrats (SPD) need in their run-up to the September national elections. Their bid to ban the neo-Nazi NPD had been a key point in their party’s agenda, one which until this week looked likely of being realized. Now that the hearing before the court has been postponed, it is quite possible that the NPD will not be banned before Germans go to the polls in the fall. And that would be a strong reminder that the SPD-led government failed on an important issue.
Although the CDU joined the SPD in the bipartisan petition for a ban on the NPD, the conservative party would be more than willing to use the scandal in the interior ministry to its advantage. By criticizing Schily and his ministry of "sloppy" work and inexcusable mistakes, the CDU could call into question the SPD’s ability to govern properly.
Although Schily enjoys a high approval rating on issues like immigration and national security, his failure to keep abreast of developments in his own ministry could spell his downfall. If the media capitalizes on the scandal it could overshadow any positive steps his ministry has made recently.
If criticism of the interior minister goes beyond opposition politics and public opinion turns against him, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder might be under pressure to ask Schily to step down. But this would be an unnecessary risk just a few months before an election.
Instead Schröder and Schily are more likely to adopt a defensive position, countering the criticism as best they can. And as past cases have shown, this is not the SPD’s best strategy.
Last year the Minister for Agriculture was forced to resign under public pressure following the BSE and food safety scandal. The minister was replaced with a member of the Green party. In the previous summer, the current Minister for Defense, Rudolf Scharping, came under attack after a series of affairs and mismanagement of the military were publicized. Scharping was rehabilitated in the last-minute after the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Schily’s successes over the past few months may outweigh his recent mistake, but if the scandal surrounding the NPD ban remains the last thing on the voter’s mind, it could spell bad news for the SPD. The only viable strategy left for the SPD is to quickly chalk up a few highly publicized successes.