International Talk Like a Berlin Parliamentarian Day

With further proof that a five-party system is much more fun for analysts than for candidates or for governance, city-state elections in Berlin put out the previous coalition, returned the personally well-liked mayor, decimated a party that was a long-time kingmaker in West Germany, and put members of the Pirate Party into a German state legislature for the first time. Just in time for pirates’ international holiday.

Klaus “und das ist auch gut soWowereit (Social Democrat, SPD) will continue to serve as Mayor of Berlin, a post he has held since June 2001. The Free Democrats, who played a crucial role in the three-party system of West Germany, appear to have polled less than 2% in this election. In 2006 they won more than 7% of the vote and gained 12 seats; they will have none in the coming parliament.

The Left Party, post-communists and often prominent in Berlin, lost four seats and can no longer serve as a junior coalition partner to the Social Democrats. The Greens thought they might win the mayoralty, after gaining their first state premiership earlier this year in Baden-Württemburg. Though they gained 4.5% and six seats, they will at best be a junior coalition partner. The SPD may also choose to govern with the Christian Democrats (CDU). In the past, this would have been called a grand coalition, but with the second-place CDU polling just 5% more than the third-place Greens (and indeed none of the parties pulling in more than 30% of the vote), it’s hardly a sweeping coalition. Look for a Red-Green government, but with the SPD clearly in the driver’s seat because it has other options.

And then there are the Pirates. Their success in this election is, first, a reminder of electoral volatility at the state level. Anyone remember the Schill Party? Second, it’s a sign that the Greens have a generational problem. Post-materialist voters have tended to be Green voters, but the issues that drew people to the Greens 25 and 30 years ago aren’t as salient now. I’d like to see some polling on how many Pirate voters are first-time voters; I’m willing to bet it’s a high percentage. Third, it may be a signal that the FDP is well and truly toast in Berlin. The kind of discourse about freedom that the Pirates have embraced is something that the FDP could have taken up, but has proven too hidebound to do. Fourth, the Berlin tech-computer scene is engaged, experienced and has both a long history and a deep bench. The city is the home of the Chaos Computer Club and the first location for Blinkenlights, among many other highlights. There’s a big natural constituency for the Pirates, and they turned out. Fifth, digital issues and a diffuse sense of protest can motivate nearly 10% of an urban electorate. That’s enough to tip some more elections. Arrrr.

This entry was posted in A Fistful Of Euros, Germany, Governments and parties, Political issues by Doug Merrill. Bookmark the permalink.

About Doug Merrill

Freelance journalist based in Tbilisi, following stints in Atlanta, Budapest, Munich, Warsaw and Washington. Worked for a German think tank, discovered it was incompatible with repaying US student loans. Spent two years in financial markets. Bicycled from Vilnius to Tallinn. Climbed highest mountains in two Alpine countries (the easy ones, though). American center-left, with strong yellow dog tendencies. Arrived in the Caucasus two weeks before its latest war.

7 thoughts on “International Talk Like a Berlin Parliamentarian Day

  1. Your Question “Pirate voters”:
    They got 15% of first time voters. That might be a good starting point to attract young urban voters.

  2. yeah, but they also got 4,5% of over 60yo voters, which I find much more suprising. Also there’s an interesting gender spread with the greens, which may well be a consequence of the green’s well known focus on gender politics: 21% of women voted green, but only 16% of men, 7% of women voted for the pirates, while 12% of men did.

  3. Kreuzberg is an intellectual flatland. They got voters by promising a guarunteed income to all, and to legalize Lebanese blond. This is akin to a guy who once ran for city something-or-other in Berkely California by promising to give a bong hit to anyone who voted for him.

  4. Second, it’s a sign that the Greens have a generational problem. Post-materialist voters have tended to be Green voters, but the issues that drew people to the Greens 25 and 30 years ago aren’t as salient now.

    Bear in mind the Greens had the second-highest increase in vote share (up 4.5%).

    As it happens, in Sweden in 2009 when the Pirates had their first big breakthrough (7.1%), the Greens’ share also increased (by 5.1%).

    Among people who didn’t vote in the previous election, the Pirates were the most popular choice (bottom graphic here)

  5. I’m late to the party, of course. But as a liberal in (what used, before the time of the Boy Party Leaders, to be) the German sense, nothing could delight me more than the FDP’s implosive death-spiral.

    The best thing about all this is that, in a Germany in which the FDP were doing their job, not only would the Piraten have been electorally insignificant, they’d have been unnecessary.

    Oh, and:

    the Greens have a generational problem.

    Not so sure about that. Against this electoral backdrop, at least, the Greens had a gender problem. Back when the Greens were the awkward platoon, they drew their core support from müslifressenden Friedensbewegten. A generation later, the Pirates drew their core support from computer nerds. For whatever reasons, the latter is much more than the former a disproportionately male domain.

  6. For amusement, check out Michael Spreng’s blog – the night before the election, he was moaning about Berlin being full of youngsters who worked for “tiniest-firms in the something-with-media city” and spent all their time on the interwubs and how both they and the Pirates were fundamentally unserious.

    Next day, it was all about whether the pirate model could be exported beyond the “media and Internet biotope of Berlin”.

    Of course, both his argument and his tone was exactly the one CDU types used to use about the Greens. Until they won an election, when suddenly it was all about “values-conservatives” and how they could potentially work together, to prevent red-green chaos.

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