The year 2009 was a super election year in Germany. A total of 17 elections were held, including the election of the European Parliament and the German Federal President. The most important were of course the parliamentary elections (for the Bundestag). The newly-elected conservative-liberal government will be observed with great excitement: will there be changes, after four years of the grand coalition, which certainly had had the necessary majority of votes in parliament to effect change but ultimately lacked the will to do so. All this has led to political apathy; voter-turnout in 2009 was the lowest it has ever been.
Election campaigns, TV and Internet
The election campaign in Germany was full of boredom, the two catch-all parties CDU and SPD were far too sure of their victory, which paid at least the latter with the change on the bench of the opposition. The message of the SPD candidate Wolfgang Thierse for example was limited to the phrase, that one should vote his party. Why, he never explained. Specific intellectual pretension put the CDU/CSU to their voters. „If You want Merkel, you have to vote CDU”, is emblazoned on the posters just before the election day. Well, who would have thought, she is the chancellor candidate of the CDU.
The policy debates on television provoked only weary yawn, especially the TV duel between the two chancellor candidates. In the Internet there were the first real online election campaigns (especially the use of social media by the CDU!) and blogs of all coleurs made their comments in varying quality.
But even in the good old media book, many journalists, political scientists and the politicians themselves, of course, explain why who votes whom and in particular why the Germans do not want to go to the polls.
Many of the authors here show a great strength in the analysis of the political situation in Germany. But it is not too difficult to determine that, given disenchantment with politics, non-voters and party state, that there have to be some changes. Only in a few books, however, are constructive suggestions for improvements. This may be due to the deadlocked situation, and due to the fact that many of the authors are still extremely limited on the here and now.
A common pattern is pure scapegoating upwards. For example, the book „Let’s get Policy Back to Us“ (Wir holen uns die Politik zurück) by the journalist Axel Brüggemann. He makes the mistake of not seeing politicians as normal people, but as something apparently different. But how does one becomes a politician, he does not explain. Brueggemann also fails to note that we probably get the government we deserve. The call for a German „Yes we can“ also fades so unheard, because Merkel and Steinmeier are just sober politicians of a “realpolitik”. Leaving aside the fact that German politicians who want to lead Germany to world power, should also be seen internationally probably very critical.
Entangled in his argument, Axel Brueggemann himself repeats intellectual thought bubbles, emphasizes all too obvious but doesn’t answer the crucial question: Why is all this? The view of the current situation, thereby suppressing how good it is here in Germany, actually, how quickly democracy was introduced after World War II and how quickly the former GDR after reunification became part of the whole. Democracy has brought Germany above all, safety, freedom and prosperity. The final request of the author, to vote invalid in the general election, to show political displeasure, it must therefore be described as totally inappropriate.
Not to go to the polls?
Similarly, Gabor Steingarts „The Stolen Democracy“ (Die gestohlene Demokratie) works, which he had originally published under the less sensational title „The question of power“ (Die Machtfrage). The parties had been given too much power and democracy is no longer guided by political ideas, but by personal interests, argues the author. Since politicians like Willy Brandt in Germany belonged to the past and nowadays politicians are more like „political engineers“ who do their job without enthusiasm, one would have no other choice than to choose not to go to the polls.
Furthermore, Gabor Steingart not only critizes the behavior of politicians, but the German proportional representation itself. The coalition of parties is arbitrary, as when the leftwing party „Die Linke“ would come into a government, even though 90 percent of Germans had not chosen it. Still, that is one of the key points of the German electoral system. Considering Gabor Steingarts political experience – highly visible in his detailed analysis of the parties – it is the more surprising that he calls to not go to the polls, to deprive the parties the mandate to govern, because that would lead to even more arbitrary coalitions.
Unlike many other writers the Spiegel correspondent makes specific proposals to improve, even if they do not necessarily likely to be effective, let alone implement. Moreover, one has to thank the author and his publisher: They have included the discussion of the readers, which was formed to the first edition of the book in the paperback edition. That is at least a democratic behavior.
A deeper and more scientifically analysis is offered by Matthias Machnig and Joachim Raschke in the book „Where shall Germany end up?“ (Wohin steuert Deutschland?). In 32 contributions journalists and scientists analyze the state of the nation, but miss to develope a clear picture in the entirety. The book reads like a very current spotlight on a Germany that stands helpless before elections in which citizens have apparently no real alternatives. Low voter turnout and the politicians who are caring little for the concerns of the people and given election promises, apparently, are the primary German problems.
What the book is silent on all these issues is the fact that populism arises in many other European countries if people are not satisfied with the politics, while there is in Germany „just“ a falling voter turnout. Of course, populism also grows here, lieke the party „Die Linke“ with their irrational and unworkable demands on the political left edge. But it is elected primarily by those who have already obtained before any aliment of the state, can thus only be lured by politicians with empty promises.
Ultimately, the analysis of the context, the discursive reference to each other and the joint plot is missing. The two arrows pointing in opposite directions on the book cover symbolize the book as well as the political situation: there are no prospects.
There are a lot more books concerning the German elections in 2009, but this selection gives a good insight. So far, the books were just published in German:
Matthias Machnig, Joachim Raschke (Hg.): Wohin steuert Deutschland?. Bundestagswahl 2009 – Ein Blick hinter die Kulissen, Hoffmann und Campe 2009, ISBN-13: 9783455501131 , 19.95 € (full German book review)