Sunday, 13 March 2016

Election day in Baden-Württemberg

It’s Election Day in Baden-Württemberg and what a day it is. The Sun shining bright over the mostly clear blue sky. The old village of Schriesheim in particular is bustling. It’s the last day of the Mathaisemarkt 2016, the first Spring Festival in a region covering the bordering edges of two states. The festival itself is said to attract over 150,000 thousand visitors each year. For a small town of just 15,000 people that’s a huge influx of visitors over a very short time.

It's because of this festival that I decided to take the short walk over to the town center to gauge the general mood of the atmosphere considering what an important day it is for the country. With 3 states having these regional elections that represent roughly 16 million people or just under 20% of the German population; this was always going to be an important event at the heart of Europe’s largest economy.

States Where Elections Takes Place Today:
Baden-Württemberg: Population of 10.6 Million
Rhineland-Palatinate: Population of 4 Million
Saxony-Anhalt: Population of 2.2 Million

However there’s a more important reason as to why today’s regional elections are more important than they normally would be, and that’s because they mark the beginning of a busy election season culminating in 22nd October 2017 to the Federal Elections, which may perhaps for the first time in 12 years lead to the swearing in of a new Chancellor.

Everyone in Germany is waiting to see what the political damage is going to amount to due to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open door policy on immigration. There’s certainly no mystery behind the growing resentment coming from the more conservative right - voices from within the Chancellor’s own constituency of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

There is a sense of political betrayal felt by a segment of the population who feel like the Christian roots and German values are under assault. A situation felt as avoidable but perpetuated by the very leader they have voted for and stood behind for 11 years.

In that sense, today’s elections in 3 states are likely to mark the beginning of what may end up being a slow and protracted shift of the German political ‘center’ further to the ‘right’.

The party that stands to gain the most from the turbulence is “Alternative für Deutschland” (AfD), which by all accounts is viewed by the German mainstream media as xenophobic and racist. As of today (pre-election) the party holds 0 out of 598 seats in the German Bundestag and just 2 seats in the European parliament (751 seats).

In the very liberal State of Baden-Württemberg, AfD’s election campaign has been tailored to focus more on Energy policy rather than refugees or immigration. Even so the campaign has been hit with a lot of resistance from anybody left of center. I’ve personally witnessed a campaign poster very neatly defaced with poop, another instance of what appeared to be a hippie (I must stress the hippie part) group passing leaflets in the central shopping district of Heidelberg with ugly quotes from AfD party members highlighted for all to see. Meanwhile I saw a TV report on ARD highlighting the growing influence of AfD in Pforzheim in a somewhat ominous fashion.

It would be very interesting to see if, despite all the media and political headwind, AfD can make significant gains in this wealthy liberal state.

 (Above: Coalition of parties against the AfD)

On a more personal note, I have to say that I enjoyed talking to all of the main political parties at their little tent booths in Bismarkplatz on the Saturday a week before the elections. All of them but “Die Linke” (The Left) had a representative who spoke proper English. The ruling CDU had the smallest presence there due apparently to a late registration mishap.

From all the parties, I was the most warmly received at the AfD booth. If I had to guess wrongly, it’d probably be because of my casual summer look in the close to freezing and rainy weather bringing them some warmth. But in reality I suspect that my love for Germany might have given a few of the members something to smile and be happy about. To put that into context, public expression of nationalism in Germany remains somewhat of a taboo thing, since to this day it is a society which is still exploring what the right level of overt nationalism it is comfortable tolerating. So to have a foreigner – a fellow European - in good English accent spell it out enthusiastically, it's not hard to imagine why it went down well.

Something else of note is that, and understandably, none of the parties had any English or French literature to pass out at their booths. However the far Left “Die Linke” had Arabic literature at theirs. 

And to finally weave all this back into the original narrative, the final day of the Mathaisemarkt Festival was, in my experience at least, as smooth as a babies bottom. Despite the impending fracturing of German political landscape, the festival was packed full just like it happens at the Kataklysmos fair every year in Larnaca. People were happy, there was a traditional parade, kids were enjoying the rides, the small traditional cafes were packed full of happy drinking people, then there was that delicious grilled smell of Schnitzelweck from a mile away, and it really was a perfect day with no signs that, at least in practice, the fabric of German society was or is about to come under any painful physical strain.

Happy Elections day fellow Baden-Württembergians.

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