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Previous: The North Is Annexed
The SPD (Social Democrats) went into the elections better organized than any other party, with a functioning grassroots network in place. The National Liberal Party fared well in the election, too, skimming off both a lot of Northern and Protestant resentment against Catholic traditionalism as well as urban bourgeois enthusiasm for a Germany shaped by freedom and democracy, with Britain and the US as role models.
Social Democrats and National Liberals together clearly win the popular vote. Yet, the two party leaders (August Bebel, SPD, and Ludwig Bamberger, NLP) face considerable internal opposition against a coalition: from the revolutionary left wing in the SPD as well as from a staunchly anti-socialist right wing (led by Johannes von Miquel) in the NLD. And since the Bavarians had manipulated the electoral law in favour of rural constituencies, the two parties, whose electoral base is in the industrial towns and cities, fall eighteen seats short of a parliamentary majority in the 500-.seat Reichstag. They need a group of nine small regionalist parties (mainly from the North, some openly secessionist, others more moderate).Once this colourful alliance is negotiated, Bebel becomes the first democratically elected Chancellor of the German Reich on January 22nd, 1887.
Bebel faces an uphill battle from the start. The new Bavarian king and German emperor, Luitpold, - after Ludwig II´s death, Otto was officially dethroned, now that not only Bavaria, but all of Germany needed a monarch, an interim "prince regent" solution as in OTL was considered untenable - is not the most political person, but he certainly dislikes a socialist as head of his government. He puts him under oath, OK, but he is much more outspoken than the OTL prince regent and often tries to sabotage the social-liberal government`s projects, who are aimed at modernising Germany.
The social-liberals think a modern, comprehensive education for everyone is the key to economic, social and political development. The constitution does not endow the federal legislative with any powers in this domain, though, and the sovereigns and the emperor stop any attempts at educational reform in its tracks. The government only achieves the installation of high-level research institutes ("Humboldt Institutes").
To unite the empire and develop the economy, the government starts to build and operate federal railroads (in addition to the railroad companies of the member states and private operators). The idea is to connect large cities and industrial areas, providing for both massive freight movements and relatively fast passenger trains.Yet, interventions from the emperor and dozens of heads of member states lead to several irrational "modifications", with lines often detouring to include the capital of some small principality etc.
Another great reform project is the establishment of the federal armed forces (Reichswehr), where the government seeks to replace archaic aristocratic leadership structures with more modern ones which would also provide upward social mobility for the middle (and sometimes even the working) classes. The Minister for Defense, Franz Schenk von Stauffenberg (NLD), manages to implement some parts of the reform, but the emperor`s choice of generals often counter-balances these reform attempts.
Improvements for the working class, especially the eight-hour workday and compulsory social security, remain a controversial issue within the coalition, with the NLD opposing both measures. But after a landslide victory in Berlin, where the SPD gains more than 20 % from the NLD, the leadership of the NLD finally agrees to both reform projects.
The coalition is re-elected in 1890, and first effects of the reforms begin to show: average income is on the rise, inter-regional trade develops fast, the number of scientific discoveries and technological innovations increases dramatically and a new and broader, liberal and less religious urban middle class, politically and culturally oriented towards Great Britain and the US, develops. Conservatives are highly alarmed about all this: peasants as high-ranking army officers! Women working as scientists! More people going to the football stadium than to church on Sunday! Their protest begins to form.
Building a social security administration against open hostility from the emperor, who nominally "employed" all federal civil servants, is a Herculean task. Bebel chooses a brilliant and resolute person to achieve this: he makes Rosa Luxemburg (SPD) Minister for Social Affairs, the first woman to become part of a government in Germany.
Luxemburg, a left-wing social democrat, proves to have more far-reaching ideas. As a feminist, she starts several initiatives for women`s universal suffrage. After they are all vetoed by the emperor, she undertakes a joint initiative with the liberal Minister for Justice, Eduard Lasker, who is drafting a unitary Civil Law Code for the empire, to remove all legal provisions which e.g. declared husbands custodians of their wives.
This is too much for the Catholic conservative establishment (not only) in the South. Conservative protesters swamp the streets of Munich, Stuttgart, Nuremberg and even smaller towns like Rosenheim or Regensburg, shouting "Down with Bebel". The emperor declares the Luxemburg-Lasker initiative would "in the name of providing a common legal foundation for our society nationwide, they subvert its moral foundations instead." Conservative politicians call the ideas in Parliament "perversions". Priests sermonize against the "unnatural laws". The protesters also have full moral support from the Catholic centre and aristocrats empire-wide.
On August 22nd, 1893, the protests turn into riots, with groups of protesters trying to storm the Reichstag. The police barely manages to hold them back. Reactionary newspapers have already announced an even larger, even more "determined" mobilisation for next Sunday.
The government and the leaders of the coalition parties meet in the Reichstag to discuss the situation. What will they do?
Withdraw the initiative.