Quarter Life Crisis

The world according to Sven-S. Porst

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1421 words

We’re facing general elections in Germany. And the situation is a sorry one. The past four years the country was run by a coalition of the two biggest parties because they couldn’t manage to assemble majorities otherwise. It looks like the mildly right and left wing conservatives got on well. That also has created an impression of inertia.

Watching the ‘Kanzlerduell’ between the chancellor and the vice chancellor on telly a few weeks ago didn’t leave the best of impressions. It was even worse than the previous one: Apparently after four years of ‘running’ the country our chancellor can say exactly nothing about what she wants to do in the future. The most determined statement she made was to brush of one of the moderator’s requests to actually answer a question. Her vice-chancellor - and presumably opponent in that ‘debate’ - was slightly more opinionated, but not much so. Two colourless beings, too friggin’ scared to say what they think, want or even dream of, seems to be the best this country’s politics can bring up. That’s a shame. More of an embarrassment, really.

Like many bad things these days this seems to be, in part, the fault of marketing. Apparently marketing is important and since Bill Clinton’s re-election campaign politicians everywhere are slaves of polls and carefully ‘crafted’ campaigns. As always, actually having an opinion means that people may disagree with you and making a few definite statements in the previous election campaign cost Mrs Merkel the opportunity to run a government without having to co-operate with her opponents. As a consequence she’s now frigging scared of saying anything.

That may be clever in the world of marketing and perhaps even in the real world. It seems that the theory that 90% of the population are plain stupid holds true once more [and, yes, I don’t know why I don’t work in marketing: I could despise and mock stupid people all day and even be paid for that; Heck, I could probably take up a nice cocaine habit as well…], making their election decisions on the last day, believing and giving in to empty promises and essentially rewarding the unrespectful and reckless political behaviour of not stating an opinion. If parties and candidates are too scared to even share their opinions, how strong can those opinions be? how will they fight for them? how can you even hope for them not lying and screwing you over all the time?

Of course, stating an opinion will also make you a target for mockery. For example, the FDP, Germany’s former liberal democrats and today’s laughable market liberals present the slogan Arbeit muß sich wieder lohnen (Work has to become worthwhile again) which sounds like a farce when seeing that they are totally in favour of people working for a few Euros or Cents an hour if only some shareholders can make a profit from that. They must interpret that slogan in a different way than I do.

Of course ‘the media’ and the dumbness they represent play a role in that as well. They all strive to make money, which seems to push them to maximum mediocrity and into turning everything in to a ‘scandal’. Headlines are regularly full of faux-contradictions, probably because some psychologist-slash-marketing type figured out that generates more clicks. Usually there is no contradiction, scandal or even newsworthy message in those articles at all. It just seems hysterical.

More significantly, there seems to be very little focus on presenting what is going on either. The ‘media’ are so busy finding ‘scandals’, human-touch stories and sticking to the latest poll results (numbers, after all, must! be! right!) that one can understand why politicians behave that way. Yet, the behaviour of both sides is wrong. [And a few media people even realise that, cf. Susanne Gaschke Das Volk sind wir - Zu viele Journalisten halten sich für den wahren Souverän und begnügen sich mit gelangweilter Besserwisserei, Die Zeit 40-2009, p. 5.] The TV ‘duel’ of the candidates didn’t help there. Their design-by-committee collection of four mostly incompetent journalists by four TV stations ensured that.

So now we can go and vote and hope for the best or the worst. With the ‘small’ parties gaining popularity, many people not being able to discover a perspective in what the parties offer, it is likely that the result will be a bit messy. It also sounds like not going to vote is becoming a more popular option because of that. [Hooray! all the more power for my vote!]

A further absurdity in this election is that it will be held according to an election law that has always been stupid but has also been declared unconstitutional recently. If I could have less respect for lawyers, this would definitely have been a good opportunity. The bottom line is that German election laws are fairly undemocratic as they can run into situations where more votes may result in less representatives of a party making it to parliament.

This is a result of the lawmakers creating an overly complicated system which they obviously failed to understand. To me passing an election law in a presumably democratic country which fails to pass the simple test that getting more votes should give more representatives ranges in the most obvious category of intellectual laziness and FAIL. For decades the people who invented and passed those laws did not document the effects of those laws or prove that they work as intended. That’s probably pretty typical for making and working in the law area, hence (together with the general crookedness) the deep disrespect for the profession.

It took very long for the constitutional court - presumably the wisest law people in the country or so - to grasp what’s going on there and to find it’s unconstitutional. The problem with the way they distribute the seats in parliament is not blatantly obvious but it’s certainly obvious that it is problematic (at least I found it questionable even when first learning about it in school that the election system contains a point which seemed hard to understand and the effects of which teachers found hard to explain). As the aim is to have representation on a local and a federal level, people get two votes: one for a local candidate and one for a general party. These are then added up state by state according to certain rules to give the end result. A consequence of the existing system is that some extra seats may be needed in parliament due to those rules. That’s odd already and the fact that these may not be distributed fairly is even worse. They have quite a detailed explanation of this in German Wikipedia.

While I expect law makers to create sensible, non-contradictory laws, they seem to think that a ‘good enough’ attitude will do, particularly if it spares them the effort of having to think about what they’re doing. As it requires quite detailed knowledge of the election rules and a fair bit of fiddling with numbers, the unfair results of the law are hard to pinpoint (or even publicise). Furthermore the consensus seemed that it doesn’t matter as the unfairness tended to be distributed evenly between the big parties. In addition the effect is said to be relatively small as long as the big remain very big. With more small parties appearing (e.g. the greens in the 1980s and the ‘left’ party recently), it has become much more likely to observe these effects.

And as they had to re-do the election in one region the last time because a candidate died, the exploitability of telling your own voters to vote for someone else became obvious enough for even the media and law people getting it. So people went to the constitutional court once more - and this time they actually won. Voilà! Unconstitutional election law. First! World! Country! But the court gave them a few years to fix the law and the big parties made sure to not pass the fix before this general election. (That’s even less understandable as people say that the social democrats may lose quite a few seats because of that, and they’re struggling quite badly already. So why didn’t they try to fix the law in time. Self destruction? Incompetence?)

The bottom line is that we don’t just have a hard time being enthusiastic about the politics offered to us, it also seems likely that a bunch of seats in parliament will be distributed incorrectly.


September 26, 2009, 12:31

Tagged as election, germany.

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