Wednesday, September 18, 2013

100% Democratic?

Back from my memorable trip to Madison where I enjoyed the opportunity to experience the booming beer culture in the States I opened my favorite newspaper Badische Zeitung and became depressed. Two gentlemen and a couple of younger guys drink Warsteiner Bier in Freiburg whereas our city has two local breweries Feierling and Ganter that are still run by the families of the same name. The Feierling Bier immediately comes to my mind for they brew and serve a naturtrübes, süffiges Bier vom Fass (naturally cloudy and pleasant-to-drink draft beer).

Prosten with Warsteiner Pils (©BZ)

Feierling: naturtrübes Bier
The two gentlemen in the photo are well-known in Germany as Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the former Chief-of-Staff in the Schröder administration (October 1998 to October 2005), supporting the other gentleman Gernot Erler in his efforts to gain the seat of the Freiburg electoral district for the Social Democratic Party in the upcoming federal election. The younger guys at the table are Jusos, SPD juniors, trying to follow in the footsteps of the two political heavyweights.

What is so peculiar about the election of Gernot Erler who has held the Freiburg electoral district for three consecutive terms and is now aiming at a fourth? The German electoral system is different from that in the UK and the US where candidates need the majority of votes to represent an electoral district in Parliament or Congress. However, already Winston Churchill knew: This system is not 100% democratic but it works. It works because it supports a two-party system with stable majorities, it is somewhat undemocratic since important minorities not likely to win a direct mandate such as the Green Party are not represented in the legislative bodies. A purely proportionality electoral system presenting each party with its weight in parliament according to the votes received is not ideal either. Such a system gave the fatal blow to the Weimar Republic in particular due to the mini-parties presented in the Reichstag to the extend that majorities for stable governments became impossible.

The present German electoral system is a mixture of both the direct and the proportional system. It tries to be perfect in electing half of the candidates in 299 electoral districts directly whereas the other half, i.e., 299 candidates are added from lists the various parties set up so that they are represented in the Bundestag (the German parliament) according to the percentage of votes they received in the election. This is why German voters cast two votes. The first one is for the direct candidate, the second one for the strength of the party. For stability reasons minority parties with less than 5% of the votes will not be represented in the Bundestag.

Red Baron likes persons with character and knows Gernot Erler as such. He supports this man of integrity and knowledge in his fourth run for a seat. However, this is not sure for in 2009 the votes for the direct seat in Freiburg were split among three candidates: 33% for the Social Democrat Gernot Erler, 28% for the Christian Democrat Daniel Sander, and 23% for the Green Kerstin Andreae. In 2013 too the Freiburg electoral district will be decided in a suspenseful triangulaire as the French call it.

The slogan of the Social Democrats for the election 2013 is: Das Wir entscheidet (It's the we that counts) against self-interest and greed. Erler when leaving the pub jokingly modified the slogan to: Das Bier entscheidet (Beer decides). Did he really mean Warsteiner Pils instead of a local Freiburg brew?

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