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Wednesday, 28 March 2012

We’ll board your ship, matey! The ongoing success of the German Pirate Party


What about the Pirate Party? The parliamentary elections in the federal state of the Saarland last weekend have boosted the small party into the second regional assembly of a German federal state. Does it mean that the political party system in Germany is going through an electoral shift?

While the conservative party will most likely cooperate with the social democrats in order to establish a “Grand Coalition”, the Pirate Party will be one of three opposition parties, next to the Green Party and the Left-Wingers. The liberal party dropped out of the assembly, continuing its deep internal crisis.

The Pirates, who are mostly based on young online-literate voters, communicating their open society policies through facebook, twitter, blogs and other online tools, have evolved from a small niche party to a rising opposition in the German party landscape. For the first time since the rise of the Green Party in the 1980s, a small group has made it to shaken the political party elite in Germany.

Will they succeed in the long run to move into more regional assemblies or even the German parliament in Berlin? Party analysts have serious doubts, for various reasons:

First of all, the party is still very small and limited in staff and financial resources. Although they reach their electorate (young, online based, online active) easily through social media, they still lack of concrete party programs and detailed plans in various policy fields (such as economy, financial affairs, or even foreign affairs).

Secondly, substantial party development is required in order to be taken serious beyond party campaigns for elections. The pirates have been widely active in online campaigning, gaining notable numbers of young voters which brought them into regional assemblies. This is however not sufficient for parliamentary activities and hard core politics as such, since these are still heavily based on traditional parliamentary commission work. The Pirates will have to adapt to the procedures in assemblies and to cope with the rules and procedures of these assemblies to implement sincere and efficient policies as opposition party.

But most importantly, it is obvious that the Pirates have to be regarded as a modern protest party, gaining votes from disappointed voters of other parties. Protest parties never succeeded to survive in the long-run, especially without significant political success in hard core politics work. The Pirates succeeded to gain votes from voters who are fed up with the current party system, and who were reasonable to vote for a different alternative rather than voting for extremist parties (such as the right wing NPD), or not going to vote at all.

Still, disenchantment with politics is a sever phenomenon in Germany, dragging on for several years now, leading to an overall down-sloping turnout on elections (on the regional, and the national level). The Pirates can minimize this effect, but the long-run success depends on more than just online campaigning and winning protest voters.

The next elections will take place in the federal states of Schleswig-Holstein and North Rhine-Westphalia, both in May 2012. Riding the wave of success, the Pirates will certainly be elected into the third and fourth assembly in a row, no question about it. Maybe this will lead for more in-party work in the policy fields where it is necessary, and maybe the established parties will recognize the pirates as a serious competitor. It would be a necessary step in Germany’s old-fashioned party system.

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