Broken voting system opens way for divine intervention.
If you thought Germany was a democracy, think again.
There are many definitions of democracy and it comes in different flavours around the world. But at its core lies the notion that voters should have a decisive say in the complexion of their governments
On that account, Germany fails the democratic test, as elections in Saarland and Thuringia showed last weekend, and as the general election taking place iGlobal Insight: Broken voting system opens way for divine interventionn less than four weeks may demonstrate too.In Saarland, a small state of 1m inhabitants squeezed against the French border, voters gave left-of-centre parties 51.7 per cent of their votes last Sunday, with 43.7 per cent going to their rivals on the right-hand side of the spectrum.
In Thuringia, in the former Communist east, the left obtained 52.1 per cent against 38.8 per cent for the conservative camp (the rest went to small parties that failed to pass the 5 per cent threshold to enter parliament).
In both states, Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, which had been ruling with an absolute majority in the past four years, suffered double-digit losses.
As clear a result as it gets, one would think. Indeed, if this were France or the UK, the CDU premiers in Saarbrücken and Erfurt would be packing boxes right now.
But this is Germany and what government emerges from the freshly elected regional parliaments is, well, anyone’s guess. And we will not be finding out soon.
The one thing that can be said with certainty is that from now on, voters are no longer part of the equation.
What political hue the executive power eventually assumes in Thuringia and Saarland will be the result of deals struck between the CDU, the Social Democrats, the Greens, the Free Democrats and the Left party. And it may or may not reflect the verdict of voters.
Defenders of the proportional electoral system practised in Germany will argue that the Federal Republic has fared respectably under it in the past 60 years. Other countries with similar arrangements are doing fine.
Indeed, they may point out that under a first-past-the-post regime the victor in Thuringia and Saarland would have been the CDU, still the biggest party in both houses despite its monumental losses.
But this ignores the crucial fact that electoral systems shape political landscapes. In Germany, the partisan spectrum has disintegrated under the proportional rule to the point where elections are fast becoming irrelevant.
While there were three parties in the Bundestag in 1980, there are now five, all with reasonable prospects of one day entering a government. In a majority system, the Greens, the FDP or the Left would either merge into bigger groupings or strike alliances ahead of elections, giving voters a clear alternative. Instead, in today’s Germany, political deals are forged after, not before, elections.
As a result, it is the Green party, the smallest party in the house with 5.9 per cent, that will decide the shade of the next Saarland government by siding either with CDU and FDP or with the SPD and the Left. Because the leaders of the SPD and Left in Thuringia, which have a joint majority, dislike each other, the state may end up being ruled by the SPD and CDU under the defeated conservative premier.
At the last general election in 2005, voters gave the centre-right 45 per cent of the votes, with 51 per cent going to parties of the left. What they got was a grand coalition – the most undemocratic, unpolitical outcome of all – under Ms Merkel, leader of the defeated camp.
Instead of telling voters which of their rivals they would prefer to rule with, the parties have been vague in order to keep their options open in the event of a hung parliament.
Manifestos are brimming with fantastical promises that candidates can throw in the bin the day after the election, blaming the compromises needed to form coalitions.
As voters prepare for September 27, with little political substance on which to build an educated choice, only one party (the Left) has been ruled out as a potential coalition partner by all others. So should Ms Merkel fail to achieve the CDU-FDP majority she strives for, only God knows what would happen.
Leaving the shape of governments in God’s hands – or in those of party functionaries – may have its merits, but it is not the democratic way. If it wants to keep the label, Germany must ditch its broken electoral system.
postad: Vapire Luke Lestat.