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SEPTEMBER 28, 2009 6:34AM

Liberals, Pirates, and other winners: Germany has voted

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  Merkel and Westerwelle
CDU leader Angela Merkel and FDP leader Guido
Westerwelle (source: Der Spiegel online)

THE VOTES ARE COUNTED, the champagne bottles stand empty, the tears of triumph and despair have been dried, and Europe's most populous country is awakening to a new political dawn.

After four years of a grand coalition with the Social Democratic Party (SPD), the conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) under Angela Merkel are about to return to their traditional coalition with the liberal (i.e. business-oriented)  Free Democratic Party (FDP) under its leader Guido Westerwelle, who will likely become foreign minister. The FDP achieved an astonishing triumph vis-à-vis 2005, climbing from 9.8% to a previously unimaginable 14.6%. Angela Merkel's CDU slipped from 34.2% to 33.8% but remains the largest party. The future Conservative-Liberal government is expected to pursue privatization and deregulation, tax cuts, higher university fees, enhanced family benefits, tougher law and order policies,  and a more muscular foreign policy. This will come at the expense of social welfare programs, job guarantees, and environmental protection. But whatever they decide to do, they'll need all the ideas they can get when it comes to tackling the collapse of the country's export market, rising unemployment,  domestic terror threats, and Germany's increasingly unpopular  military involvement in Afghanistan.

The SPD saw its worst result since the founding of the Federal Republic in 1949, plummeting from an anemic  34.2% in 2005 to an appalling 23% this year. Many of its lost votes were snatched up by the booming Left Party, the rebooted East German communist party, which improved its position from 8.7% to 11.9% and is hoping one day to surpass the SPD as the voice of Germany's left wing. The Green Party rose from 8.1% in 2005 to a record 10.7%.

Nearly two dozen micro-parties shared the bottom 6%. The neo-Nazi National Democratic Party (NPD) picked up some votes in Germany's eastern regions,  but it lost ground nationwide and polled a disastrous 1.5% percent. The Federal Government is currently seeking to ban it altogether.

Coming in at just 1.5%, these neo-Nazis
seem to be lacking the "Reich" stuff

The Animal Protection Party rose from almost zero to 0.5%. The Civil Rights Movement for Solidarity (BüSo), a cult-like faction  managed by Lyndon LaRouche's German wife Helga Zepp-LaRouche,  remained unchanged at a less than inspiring 0.1%. The Violets - for spiritual politics made massive gains, soaring from 0.005% to 0.1% in just four years. The nationalist and anti-Islamic Christian Middle - for a Germany according to GOD's commandments flew across the finish line on a wing and a prayer and held fast with a solid 0.0%.

Voter participation stood at a record low - just 72% compared to over 77% in 2005.

The Pirate Party came in at 2% nationwide, a thoroughly respectable result for a brand-new party and about what its youthful members expected. The Pirates won 3.35% of the vote in Berlin alone, polling 6% in the trendy Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg district. Since an overall minimum of 5% is needed to receive a mandate, this means they will not be boarding the Bundestag any time soon. At least, that's the official result here on the ground. The results out in cyberspace, where the Pirates have set their sails, paint a very different tableau indeed. According to an analysis the Social Media Blog recently conducted of party preferences as expressed in Germany's online forums and on social networking sites, the Pirates are the absolute champions at 36%, followed by the Left Party, the Greens, the FDP, and the SPD, with the CDU coming in dead last. Moreover, this year 13% of first-time male voters cast their ballot for the party with the black sail in its logo.

So it looks as if the Pirates have tasted blood and will be sharpening their cutlasses for 2013. With a yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!


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My God, I bet this makes you yearn for a two-party system.(only kidding). I thought Nazi's and everything about them where out-lawed in Germany. And why do all nazi's have to be bald in Germany. We have many fine looking nazi's in America? (ugh)
Too bad for the Pirates. Thanks for the excellent summary.
Aargh! The electoral picture has indeed changed from a few years ago, and is down right unrecognizable when compared to 25 years ago! Interesting results, and definitely bodes ill for the SPD, at least in the short term.
All things Nazi are officially banned in Germany, but the NPD has been successfully flying under the radar. They don't display their swastikas in public, but their banner is obviously a takeoff on the Nazi Party flag. Like the Nazis, their whole focus is on race hatred and social envy, and when you hear their speeches, it sounds like 1933 redux. But they've been crossing the line quite a bit lately, which could give the government grounds for a ban. Personally, I think it's better to keep them out in the open rather than to glamorize the movement by driving it underground. There are also two other right-wing parties (the Republicans and the German People's Union), each of which got around 0.1%. This poor showing shouldn't give us any satisfaction. The neo-Nazis have powerful backers and are not going to disappear any time soon.
I found this fact disturbing: "The neo-Nazi National Democratic Party (NPD) picked up some votes in Germany's eastern regions, but it lost ground nationwide and polled a disastrous 1.5% percent. The Federal Government is currently seeking to ban it altogether."
If Germany is the most populace country in Europe, 1.5% is still a dangerous number as far as I'm concerned. But so is the existence of the party at all. Well reported, Alan.
You're right, it is disturbing, and the far right is clearly biding its time. But let me hasten to add that they are much weaker in Germany than in most other European countries, including Britain and France (where Le Pen's party used to get up to 10%). In Italy people sell Mussolini busts and T-shirts on the street, and the dictator's granddaughter head's the Italian neo-fascist party. Germany is very far from anything like that.
Agreed. But the whole system is entirely different. By American standards, the conservative Christian Democrats are practically Trotskyites.

Agreed - if Obama were German, he'd probably be CDU, or perhaps FDP, definitely not SPD, and _definitely_ not Die Linke.
I don't think the FDP will allow infringement on personal freedoms. They have too strong of a libertarian wing. I also don't agree on the domestic surveillance issue, on the same basis. Traditionally, the junior partner in a coalition has an outsized influence, since they enable the larger party to rule.
In Bavaria, where Ms. Merkel's sister party, the CSU ruled with an arch-conservative fist for the last 40 years, the last elections necessitated a coalition with the FDP. As a result, the unthinkable has happened and Pope Benedict XVI's home state now recognizes same-sex partnerships. That's the effect the FDP will have.
For me, the scary part is knowing that the NPD would definitely poll above 1.5% in the U.S.

Unrealted note: When I backpacked around Europe in '92, I cut off my long hair and shaved my head for convenience. Bad timing--there was some neo-nazi violence going on that year, and several clubs wouldn't let me in the door: "No skinheads!"
One last thing: If things pan out the way it looks and Guido Westerwelle will be Vice-Chancellor and Foreign Minister, Germany will have an openly gay person second in command. Both Angie and Guido are conservatives, but their ascent is nevertheless a progressive milestone.
Excellent point. The mayor of Berlin is also openly gay. I may pick up on these developments in a later article (unless you beat me to it!).
Yes, but how did the Schnapps and Bratwurst Party do?
Believe it or not, they actually did have a Beer Drinkers' Party back in the 90s, but it has long since gone "belly up"...
Very interesting. I don't know much about German politics and appreciate learning more. On that zero tolerance for Nazi stuff--I've always thought it was wrong. I hate restrictions of free speech, however abhorrent. Like somebody said before me, best that it's right out in the open.
I meant to ask: Do they have a runoff? Or do all those people run at once and the election gets decided with one election? Do they vote in person/via mail/internet/combination? weekend, weekday, longer period than a day? Just curious. I think our own system is entirely antiquated.
Germany has a multi-party system with proportional representation, e.g. if a party gets 10% of the vote, it gets to send 10% of the representatives to the Bundestag. But since no party ever achieves an absolute majority this way, the largest one always has to set up a coalition with one or more parties. For the past four years the conservative CDU had a so-called grand coalition with the runner-up, the left-center SPD, but this time the CDU has pulled ahead and is forming a coalition with the liberal (i.e. business-oriented) FDP. So even though Merkel will stay chancellor, she'll need to compromise with Westerwelle on many points.

Parties polling less than 5% are excluded from the Bundestag.

The voting takes place on a single day and is all over by 6 pm, with the official results in after midnight. Many people also vote using absentee ballots up to weeks in advance. But you can usually tell already at 6 who has won. There's no registration involved, because you're automatically registered as a citizen. It's all very efficient.
Also worth noting that elections are held on Sundays.
That coalition idea sounds interesting. On the plus side, bipartisanship must be more than a slogan if they are to get anything done. On the negative side, DO they get anything done?

Mary, Bush wasn't chatting Angela up, he was feeling her up! :)
It's only recently have I heard of the Pirate Party. Have they not spread across other European countries as well such as Sweden and Denmark?

Can you imagine such a party here in the States? Well, it would make for a good movie and I'm sure Hollywood would jump at the chance.
@LuisG: The Pirates originated in Sweden, if I remember well. But they have much trouble getting beyond their demands related to net neutrality and data protection. (So their typical - but certainly not exclusive - voter is rather the young male computer geek type.)
Even these demands are contradictory: On one side, they want to see free downloading of music and movies legalized (whence the origin of the name), explaining that those rights cannot really be enforced by the State anyway. (To a an artist living on royalties, that might sound like legalizing burglary since only few burglary cases are ever solved by the police anyway.)
But on the other side, they call for more legal protection of data and anonymity on the Internet because those rights cannot really be upheld against the State on a purely technological basis.
They might seem more like a (Net) consumers' organization than a party, more like a symptom than a force. But they also are an interesting new element in the two stress fields between law and the possibilities of technology, and between State and Individual, which both are major challenges of the future, just as the dialectics of science and ethics have already been for a long time.