This Sunday, Germany will hold a general parliamentary election. If this fact has escaped you so far, you’re not alone, for supposedly more than half of all young voters aged 18 to 29 have no idea that there is an election.
In spite of media attempts to milk some tension out of this election campaign and mini-uproars concerning Angela Merkel’s striking necklace in the colours of the German flag, which she wore for a TV appearance and which collected 5000 Twitter followers within a few hours (yes, Angela Merkel’s necklace has its own Twitter account) or Merkel’s opponent Peer Steinbrück giving (Merkel? The voters? Germany?) the finger, this has been the dullest campaign in recent memory. Even the TV election spots, usually a highlight of unintentional hilarity, particularly those for obscure small parties such as the Bibli-believing Christians or the Anial Protection Party, are dull this year and only for the big parties anyway. Angela Merkel is in the lead and though finger-flipping Peer Steinbrück has gained a few points on her, the man is about as charismatic as ton of bricks and just as clumsy.
What annoyed me most about this year’s election campaign is that the three left of centre parties, the Social-Democratic Party, the Green Party and the Left Party, are very much running a resentment campaign aimed at the evil and greedy rich, who are supposedly ruining Germany, have caused the income gap to widen and should pay a lot more taxes. The problem is that the “greedy rich” according to those parties are not CEOs, investment bankers and hedgefund managers earning ill-gotten millions (we don’t have a whole lot of those, since German banks and corporations rarely pay the exorbitant salaries common in the US and UK), but teachers, professors, small business owners, lawyers, doctors, middle management types, i.e. solidly middle class folks. What is more, the SPD, Greens and Left Party are also running a weird campaign against stay-at-home parents, which involves promising/threatening to get rid of programs and tax breaks benefitting stay-at-home parents and instead expanding public childcare and full-time schools.
Now I don’t actually disagree with the actual policies. I do believe that welfare payments should be higher, that temp agencies are exploiting lots of workers, that we need a minimum wage and that there should be options for full-time schools and childcare available for those who need them. However, I also believe that parents should be given the option to stay at home with their children, if they wish, and should not be called lazy and old-fashioned for wanting to be with their children. I also dislike resentment campaigns in general. The fact that this year most of the resentment campaigns have come from the left side of the political spectrum (though we do have xenophobic resentment campaigns from the right in the form of a party calling itself Alternative for Germany, which attempts to appeal to old people who want the Deutschmark back by complaining a lot about those lazy Greeks) doesn’t make the tactic any better. Resentment isn’t attractive, regardless what side of the political spectrum it originates from.
Besides, most of those social problems – low welfare payments, growth of low paid temp work, etc… – that the SPD and the Greens now decry were introduced not by any conservative government, but are the result of the welfare reforms implemented by the Social-Democratic and Green coalition government of Gerhard Schröder. And complaining about policies that one’s own party introduced is not just bad form but also playing the voters for stupid. Never mind that Steinbrück is badly cast as the defender of the poor, considering that he is one of the highest earning members of parliament due to demanding high fees for speaking engagements.
Oh yes, and anybody hoping that Peer Steinbrück would discontinue the austerity policies championed by Angela Merkel – best forget it! Steinbrück was secretary of finance in the great coalition government under Merkel and is very much in favour of austerity.
On the other hand, the conservative Christian Democratic Party, which used to specialize in resentment campaigns, is running a pleasantly resentment free campaign this year and instead focusses on things that are going right. In fact, Angela Merkel usually doesn’t even acknowledge the fact that she has an opponent. However, this doesn’t change the fact that there are still a whole lot of very conservative people in the CDU who oppose equal rights for GLBT couples, who would like to restrict abortion even more than it is already restricted, who want to force everybody to adhere to some nebulous dominant “Leitkultur” and who would love to see a less diverse Germany. Meanwhile, the liberal party FDP is plagued by internal squabbles, the Greens have seen more core topics disappear and the Pirate Party hasn’t been able to gain any ground after some initial successes two years ago.
Since I will be in the UK on election day, I already voted. Personally, I predict that Angela Merkel will continue as chancellor, but that the coalition government between Merkel’s Christian Democratic Party and the Liberal Party (liberal in the European, i.e. Libertarian in the US sense) FDP will not continue due to a persistent weakness of the FDP. I suspect in the end it will be another great coalition between the Christian Democratic Party and the Social Democratic Party. Which isn’t exactly good for democracy, but probably the best possible outcome under the circumstances.
In case you want to know which party best matches your preferences, here is a website called the Wahl-O-Mat, which gives you a number of policy statements with which you can agree or disagree. Afterwards, it tells you which party is closest to your views. It’s usually pretty accurate and tends to predict fairly well, which party I end up voting for. Occasionally, it’s off by one or two points and recommends a party that might be a good fit, but that I simply don’t like and usually don’t vote for.
Alas, the Wahl-O-Mat is only available in German, quite possibly because the makers don’t expect that people who don’t speak German might want to give the thing a try. Though personally, I always like playing with similar programs for US and UK elections, even if they regularly decide that I am a Scottish Socialist or should vote for US fringe presidential candidates I’ve never even heard of.