German politics, opaque enough at the best of times, is in even more of a mess than normal.
Admittedly the Chancellor-elect, Angela Merkel, has seen off the preposterous Chancellor Schroeder - who somehow persuaded himself, in the face of his election defeat, that he remained the only man to lead the country. After a few weeks of populist posturing, he finally had the grace to back off.
So under Angela Merkel's leadership, the centrist CDU/CSU duly set to cobbling together a government with the socialist SPD. The socialists, for their part, were fronted by the notorious Chairman Müntefering. "Münte" as he is known in Germany, has long been a bug-bear of this blog for his advocacy of undiluted socialist dogma - command economy, denunciations of evil international Jewish capitalists and all - to solve Germany's dire economic plight.
Yesterday, however, this mastadon of the left announced his resignation. His nominee for the post of SPD General Secretary had just been defeated by an even more hard left candidate, an ambitious woman called Andrea Nehles. The rebuke from his own party was too much and "Münte" has chucked the chairmanship, although he claims to want to continue putting the coalition together.
But his resignation obviously throws into the deepest doubt Müntefering's ability to represent the SPD in coalition negotiations, let alone serve in a putative Merkel cabinet, so the future of the coalition is now in doubt. The situation is further complicated by the fact that Merkel's centrist partner, Edmund Stoiber of the CSU, may use Müntefering's exit as an excuse to withdraw from his (putative) role as trade and technology minister in Merkel's (putative) cabinet. Ironically, this will strengthen Merkel, as Stoiber is a very uncomfortable partner, touchy about not being number 1, and given to embarrassing outbursts about the innate superiority of his native Bayern and the inferiority of the east and so on.
But the return of the leftists within the SPD is the most immediately worrying thing for Merkel. Even if the "grand coalition" survives, its policy formulation and ability to govern will be made much harder given a resurgent left.
Should it all come unstuck, the likely date for new elections is 26th March 2006, the date on which regional elections will be held in Baden-Württemberg, Rheinland-Pfalz and Sachsen-Anhalt.