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Opinion

Opinion: Election-year politics leave parties little room for error

Germany's national political parties are gearing up for a general election later this year. It looks to be the toughest in decades, says DW's Volker Wagener.

Only the Free Democrats (FDP) have reason to be relaxed. The business-friendly party has nothing to lose, because they already lost everything four years ago. In the 2013 election, the FDP fell below the 5 percent parliamentary threshold, and dropped out of the Bundestag.

Now they are back on the radar - or at least their leader, Christian Lindner (pictured at top), is. He is the FDP. The party, once a small but important governing coalition partner, has been powerless since 2013. Lindner, just 38 years old, has breathed new life into the FDP. People no longer seemed interested in a party for high-income earners, and it has been a long time since anyone believed the FDP's promise of a tax return so simple it would fit on a cocktail napkin. Instead, the FDP has been humbled, refined and quieted, and that is how they will get over the Bundestag's 5 percent hurdle. The benefit of being out of power is having no record to defend.

Merkel: Optimism on the defensive

Chancellor Angela Merkel and her conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) would celebrate the electoral return of their former coalition partners, but it would not be enough to rule. The times are now too chaotic for such simple politics.

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DW's Volker Wagener

Merkel, her famous "we can do this" refugee crisis proclamation of September 2015 now discredited, has exhausted her sympathy capital among voters. To survive the election in September 2017, she needs her party, which for 10 years has been little more than window dressing. The short-lived "Willkommenskultur," or "welcome culture," approach to the refugee crisisheralded by romantics has long since moved into an era dominated by domestic security. The certainties of pre-refugee days have been replaced by doubt in the state's ability to protect its citizens, a belief in Europe and fear of terrorism. Law-and-order policies are in demand and populist movements are out for blood.

The right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) can do next to nothing and will still grow stronger by the week. It remains to be seen how much wind the party of simple answers for angry voters can take out of CDU sails. Merkel, the eternal chancellor, still stands to win, even if not handily. Why? Because she remains a symbol of stability.

Gabriel: Far from a favorite

Though no one may want it, another so-called "grand coalition" with the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) seems likely. The SPD continues to marginalize itself, increasingly a popular party in name only, as it drops to 20 percent in the polls. Even worse is its probable chancellor candidate, Sigmar Gabriel. A professional politician who lacks sympathy, his SPD colleagues shy away from him. Why vote for someone with only 75 percent support from his own party members? What's more, the election's hot-button issue, domestic security, is not seen as a core competence of the Social Democrats.

Security not key for the Left and Greens

The same can be said for the Greens and the Left party. In an age of terrorism, populism and a continent in crisis, all other issues rank second to security. Whether a vegan sausage can be called a sausage becomes a moot political point relative to a state viewed as not in control.

This will be a turbulent campaign set against an entirely new backdrop, harder than any that has come before. All the more so should terror again visit Germany's door.

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