3.2 km of asphalt

The news is a day old, but deserving of a post nonetheless, since it concerns the city whose name this blog takes. On September 18, there was an election in the federal state of Berlin. (Berlin is sort of a city/state hybrid — picture DC with statehood.) The Social Democrats (SPD) got the largest share of the vote, the Christian Democrats (CDU) came in distant second place, and the Greens — considered a natural ally of the SPD — scored enough of the vote to be able to form a coalition with the SPD. End of story. Or so you’d think.

But then the Greens and the SPD got into a fight over a road. 3.2 kilometers of a road, to be precise. See, the Greens campaigned against the tiny expansion to a highway circling the city center, which the SPD had supported. The SPD was willing to ditch the extension as long as it could allocate the federal money it was receiving to another project. But the federal government said no, and the Greens refused to budge, and so yesterday talks fell apart.

Which means we’re now looking at a grand coalition between the SPD and the CDU. On a national level, or in West Germany, that wouldn’t be too surprising. But in Berlin, it’s kind of strange. Here’s why.

The CDU is the only right-of-center party that won enough votes to gain representation in the state legislature. (The freefalling Free Democrats, who rule in a coalition with the CDU on a national level, lost three-quarters of their vote share and ended up with just 1.8% of the vote, while the far-right National Democratic Party got 2.1% — both short of the 5% threshold for representation.) The parties of the left — the SPD, the Greens, the Left Party, and the Pirate Party — combined for 113 of the 152 seats in the state parliament; excluding the SPD, the farther-left parties still got 65 seats, to just 39 for the CDU. And yet the CDU gets to be in a coalition with the SPD, while the other parties get left out in the cold.

Put another way, the two most conservative parties that competed seriously in what’s arguably the country’s most progressive state will form a coalition that’s far to the right of Berlin’s average voter.

All over 3.2 km of asphalt.

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