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Unfortunate Coincidence?

Atila Sinke Guimarães

Let me look at two public statements recently made by the Pope. First, on August 23 John Paul II pointed to a new spirituality when he urged international leaders to find effective ways of balancing development with ecological protection. The idea of an “ecological vocation” has become an urgent moral responsibility in today’s world, he said (America, Sept. 9, 2002, p. 5). During the whole month of September, the media publicized and commented on the green approach of this every-day-surprising Pontiff. Second, also in this month of September, with regard to the perspective of a war against Iraq, John Paul II became more strident in his opposition to the stance of the United States.

Of course there were concrete pretexts for the Pope to take these two positions. The first was the UN summit on development (August 26-September 4) held in Johannesburg. The second was the imminence of the war the United States has announced against Iraq. I am aware of this. Here, however, I would like to focus these positions in another perspective. I want to analyze the repercussion these statements had on the German elections that took place September 22.

The German voters are certainly the most stable electorate in the world. The German political reality is not difficult to understand. Let me sketch a simplified picture of it. There are two main parties in the German scenario – the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Social Democratic Party (SDP). The former represents the right, the latter the left. These two parties have almost the same strength and number of representatives. After World War II, the Minerva’s vote (deciding vote) almost always fell to a third party, the Free Democratic Party (FDP). This party had only a small number of representatives, but enough to tilt the scale toward one or another of the two giants. Thus, each party vied for the FDP vote to assure victory to its candidate.

This simple picture changed about a decade ago with the rise of another party, the Green Party, which sometimes has surpassed the number of representatives of the FDP. This has changed the political equilibrium. The Green Party situates itself to the left of the SDP and normally supports the latter. With the scenario moving faster to the left, the FDP ceased to be the indecisive lady in the balcony uncertain of the champion on whom she would bestow her colors, and entered the arena straightaway supporting the CDU. The picture again comes into focus: on one hand we have the CDU plus the FDP; on the other hand we have the SDP plus the Green Party.

Since 1982 Helmut Kohl (CDU) occupied the power for four terms until the last election (1998), when he lost to Gerhard Schroeder (SDP). In view of the poor economic results of the Schroeder administration, it was a common opinion that he would lose the election September 22. The political calculations considered it certain. Given the extraordinary stability of the German mentality, it does not change easily, principally it would not change at the last moment. Well, it changed in the last month.

What was this new robust factor that entered the scene? What happened in this last month that altered the picture and let Schroeder win with the minuscule majority of 1.2%, the smallest margin of victory in a general election since World War II? (Los Angeles Times, Sept. 23, 2002, pp. A1, A11).

According to the media, Schroeder won thanks to his last-moment-platform of strongly attacking the United States in its position against Iraq, and in emphasizing his green agenda, which found reception in a Germany afflicted by floods.

Curiously, what the media did not say, is that the two points were exactly the same two items that John Paul II had stressed only some weeks before, giving the progressivist German Episcopate just enough time to spread the word among Catholics. A point to remember, the Catholic Church today is the largest religious denomination in Germany (34%) and the voice of its Episcopate has a considerable influence among the CDU grassroots, which is mainly composed by Catholics. It is not difficult to imagine a Bishop, like progressivist Cardinal Karl Lehman, president of the German Episcopal Conference, emphasizing points of the John Paul II’s statements to bring more Catholic votes to the alliance SDP and Green Party in order to keep the left in the government.

Therefore, in my opinion, the decisive factors that entered the scene to modify the previous situation were the Pope’s pronouncements and the action of the Catholic ecclesiastical structure.

Were the Pope’s statements premeditated actions to influence the German voters? Or was it only an unfortunate coincidence that gave the victory to Schroeder?

Posted September 26, 2002

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