featured image PBS NewsHour/flickr
Anyone that knows me knows I love elections! So when I found out that back in January that I was going to be in Freiburg for the Länder elections in Baden-Württemberg, I was fairly excited. I did not know really know what to expect but I can say so far election season has not disappointed. In this post, I am going to run through how I find out local election information, the political parties (the candidates themselves barely matter), and the biggest issues:
In the US, I usually find out most of my political news online through a wide variety of news sources. While all of that information does exist here in Germany, my German is not that great and plenty gets lost in Google Translate so I tend not to rely as much on the media as I unintentionally do in the US. As an American campaign person, I HATE yard signs, since “Signs don’t Vote.” Well, signs in Germany do not vote either, but instead of just saying the candidate’s name and a slogan, the party platform can be laid out by five signs in a row. For example, the Green Party (which will likely win in Freiburg) is very strong against nuclear energy so they have this poster that talks about their distaste for nuclear energy. Nuclear Energy has moved up from being a secondary issue to the #1 issue of this election cycle after the incidents in Japan. Last fall, Chancellor Merkel decided to keep open a large number of nuclear power plants longer than their intended life span, which is a decision that has greatly backfired upon her. Tonight, there were large demonstrations all across Germany against nuclear energy. Of the five major political parties, Die Linke (the Left Party with serious ties to the former East German Communist Party), the SPD (Socialists), and the Greens are against nuclear energy where the CDU (Christian Democrats) and the FDP (Libertarians) support it. I’m not sure what the Pirate Party thinks, but I doubt they will clear the 5% hurdle along with other minor parties.
The other type of political poster is a little more bland with the party name and a picture of the local candidate for the party. In Baden-Württemberg, there are 70 constituencies and Freiburg and its suburbs have 3 of them. However, there are more than 70 MdLs (Members of the Landstag) since one party could complete a strong sweep of seats by only winning a plurality instead of a majority in each constituency. Therefore, there are usually 50 to 60 added seats to ensure that all parties above 5% of the vote have a reasonably fair share of the Landstag in Stuttgart. Currently, the CDU is in control of the Landstag with the FDP and the CDU has been the senior partner in the government since 1953. However, that long rein of control may end on Sunday even if the CDU wins a plurality of votes in the Land.
The CDU has had a pretty awful year. The first major strike against them comes from Stuttgart 21, which is turning into Germany’s Big Dig with even less rewards. As you can read in the link, the project would provide for a major high speed rail upgrade in Stuttgart by turning a stub station into a through station. I love high speed rail, but this project is just silly. The Deutsche Bahn is projected to spend 4.8 Billion Euros (before going over budget) to make the trains between Frankfurt and Munich 30 minutes faster. Germany does not have the money for this project and there is already real high speed rail on this line. Is it perfect? No, however, that amount of money could be spent on other worthwhile projects such as investing in more local rail services or alternative energies. Stefan Mappus, the President of the Landstag from CDU (he sort of looks like Chris Christie) has been a huge defender of the project along with both the FDP and the SPD. The Greens are forming the opposition to the project based on the insane cost, which propelled them to capture a majority of the city government in Stuttgart in 2009. Most people in Stuttgart see this election as the referendum on the project that they were never allowed to have. Having visited Stuttgart yesterday, I can confirm that people are very angry about the construction as shown through the thousands of signs throughout the city lamenting the destruction of the historic Hauptbahnhof for an insane price.
Another issue against the CDU is the recent resignation of Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg for plagiarizing much of his doctoral thesis. A plagiarizing scandal in Germany is like a sex scandal in the US since so many Germans spend much of their careers pursuing PhDs and other advanced degrees. It would have been one thing if zu Guttenberg had resigned instantly, but he dragged his feet for over a month and Merkel finally got rid of him. Adding in the fact that Merkel is getting flak at home for bailing out Greece and Ireland, it has been a very rough start to the year for the CDU.
Combining Stuttgart 21, the aforementioned scandal and the nuclear issues, the Green Party will have its best returns ever in Baden-Württemberg. While it is doubtful that the Greens will win a plurality, they could easily finish above the SPD, which would allow them to be the senior partner in the government assuming the Greens and the SPD reach a majority in the Landstag. It would be the first time ever in Germany that the President of the Landstag (who is the American equivalent of both the Governor and a Senator) would be from the Green Party. Since Baden-Württemberg is the third largest Länder in Germany with almost 11 million people, the President of the Landstag is as important as some minor European heads of state. Therefore, the CDU is very nervous before Sunday’s election, because a defeat here would be a sign of the end of the road for Merkel’s government since the opposition would now be firmly in control of the Bundesrat, which is sort of like the German Senate. In any case, I will be traveling around the Land this weekend to see some soccer games and observe these elections.
P.S. If you can’t tell from here, I would probably cast my ballot for the Greens here since I believe they have the best vision for Germany’s future with smart growth, green jobs, and responsible spending.